The Students' Union released a poll Mar. 3 which showed Calgarians' support for secondary suites in an attempt to influence City Council. Four days later, City Council made minor adjustments to the secondary suites bylaw, but Mayor Naheed Nenshi's proposal to approve the creation of secondary suites in areas that currently allow only single-family homes did not pass. The issue will return to council in December and more consultation will be carried out regarding secondary suites.
"I'm pretty disappointed," said vice-president external Hardave Birk. "At the end of the day, I don't think we need to consult more. Our poll proves what's already been known and that is that a large majority of Calgarians support secondary suites. It's a vocal minority in a few communities who are really against this issue."
The issue of legalizing existing secondary suites, bringing existing ones up to code and making the application process less complicated has been a contentious issue in the city.
"It's about people having access to safe and affordable housing," said Birk. "Obviously we are happy that they did take some steps and they relaxed some areas and made some changes to the bylaw, but I don't think they went anywhere near far enough."
The Students' Legislative Council approved up to $40,000 to commission a poll to determine Calgarians' views on the issue.
"Yes this was a real good opportunity," said SU engineering faculty representative Vien Nguyen. "I think it was still justified."
SLC voted unanimously to approve the spending.
"A lot of my friends live in illegal secondary suites and they would have liked the legalization," said Nguyen.
City Council did make it easier for homeowners to add suites to zones where it was already legal, but voted against recommendations to legalize new areas of Calgary.
"Yes, I believe the $40,000 was well spent," said first-year arts student Brittany Campbell."I know tons of people who live in secondary suites."
"It's probably going to cost us around $30,000 and that comes from our operating surplus, which was $600,000," said Birk.
The operating surplus comes from businesses and food court in the SU-owned MacEwan Student Centre.
"The fact that it is such a major issue for students definitely justifies the amount that we spent," said Birk, added the SU spends a lot of time and resources on this issue and has been lobbying City Council about secondary suites for five or six years now.
"If we didn't put this poll out then, maybe this issue would have failed at council and it wouldn't be coming back in December," said Birk.
The poll showed that 79 per cent of Calgarians support the legalization of existing secondary suites, and 77 per cent show a willingness to accept their neighbour having a secondary suite.
The SU went through a competitive process to choose the research company. They gathered quotes from three different companies, but choose ZINC Research because it was the only company that could produce results in time for the City Council vote.
Secondary suites are a popular form of student housing, but many students are living in illegal suites where if they have a problem with the landlord, they do not have the legal backing to complain without threat of eviction.