The wrong call on secondary suites

By Sarelle Azuelos

And the unfortunate secondary suite saga continues. On Monday, city council once again pushed back the vote to legalize secondary suites until further research is conducted. This cycle of introducing the issue, promising change and then postponing any meaningful policy has been ongoing for over half a decade.

City council is out of touch with the Calgary public and especially students when it comes to affordable housing. Secondary suites are typically basement suites that can be added to existing bungalows and rented relatively cheaply. However, obtaining the proper permits and meeting all necessary regulations is less than straightforward. Currently the process for legalizing such a suite is time-consuming and taxing. Individual home owners must apply for re-zoning and each application is handled by the City of Calgary individually.

Students and other low-income groups that often turn to renting have much to gain from introducing more secondary suites, and so do homeowners. Many aldermen in City Hall, including Diane Colley-Urquhart, Gord Lowe and our very own Dale Hodges, to name a few, complain the suites will decrease property values, cause parking chaos and disrupt quality of life. This list makes it seem like they have a very narrow understanding of Calgarians. Hodges has been alderman to Ward One, which encompasses the University of Calgary campus and much of the varsity area, for 28 years. He has spent nearly 30 years responsible for representing the student population to City Hall, but has no interest in actually doing so.

Beyond the typical arguments in favour of secondary suites — more affordable housing, more renter rights, the ability to enforce safety regulations, homeowner’s gaining a second income — the most prominent issue here is the lack of city aldermen accountability. According to the Calgary Herald, up to 85 per cent of Calgarians are in favour of “relaxing restrictions on secondary suites in all neighbourhoods.” An overwhelming majority of Calgarians, not just students, are accepting of less expensive housing and do not fear a cataclysmic outcome from the legislation. While some Calgarians certainly do own several vehicles that just can’t all fit in the driveway, the rest are willing to pass up a parking spot to help out a potential neighbour. Calgary is an oil and gas town, but there is a huge population that supports the upper-middle class and they are calling for more affordable housing. They deserve to be heard.

Hodges, among many others, brushes off this information with a callous indifference. He is not representing Calgarians at city council, much less students. Students are not a stable voting base and many that are around for one municipal election will have moved away by the time the next rolls around. But that does not mean that our municipal representative should be able to completely ignore an issue that would greatly improve the quality of life for many. The next round of voting on this issue takes place in December — hopefully by then the aldermen in question will take the wishes of citizens to heart.

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