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Registered Calgary secondary suites spike after rule changes

Calgary’s secondary suite land use changes have paid immediate dividends, with a 25 per cent increase in legal suites since spring 2018.

Calgary city council changed the rules around secondary suites in March of this year, altering land use district changes, thus permitting legal suites in R-1, R-C1 and R-C1L land use area without city council approval.

There are now more than 1,000 legal secondary suites on the City of Calgary’s Suite Registry. That’s more than double the 458 that were previously registered prior to the development of the city’s suite registry in 2015.

“Right after the amendments were in, the ink was just barely dry, we saw a substantial increase in (secondary suite) applications,” said Cliff de Jong, senior special projects with the City of Calgary.

“That’s translated into a 25 per cent increase in finalized registered suites. But there’s a lot more in the approval pipeline.”

He said while the interest has been high since council made the changes, they’d like to see even more applicants come forward, especially those people who have existing suites that aren’t registered. Along with the land use changes, city council also waived the roughly $700 development permit and registry fees until June 2020, and allowed a two-year amnesty for those with illegal suites to come forward to get them up to snuff.

“What we’re trying to do is create an environment that’s less threatening than what people might have the impression,” he said.

“The timing has never been better to come forward.”

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said this exactly what he’d hoped for when he got behind the council decision to change the city’s secondary suite policy.

“That’s definitely what we were looking for. And I think there’s going to be more of an opportunity moving forward as more and more people are getting the information and are seeing the benefits of legalizing their suites and noticing that the process is more efficient to get through,” said Chahal.

He said his primary concern, aside from the safety of those residing in secondary suites, was the city bureaucracy potential applicants had to wade through. He still says it’s a problem, but it’s ongoing work the city has to do to get the information in citizens’ hands.

Chahal said not only could the process be onerous, but for many potential applicants, the biggest barrier was making time to plead their case in front of city councillors. Prior to the changes, all secondary suites applications were discussed and voted on by council.

“It is challenging to take time off work and come in front of council and present, not knowing what’s going to happen. That a big issue, but also the costs involved of doing that,” he said.

“It’s important for people who are thinking of going through the process to see that it’s efficient and there’s a lot of value for safety of residents and when you rent out those suites later that the residents and the city know that it’s a legal suite.

“It’s a value proposition that’s a win-win for everybody.”

It’s also a win for council, Chahal said. They’ve seen a substantial reduction in the number of suites that have come forward for any sort of council review. He said the ones they are seeing are also far less contentious.

“The secondary suite issue really has given council more time to focus on issues at hand and less on this issue, which was extremely time consuming.”

The new suites that have come on line are evenly dispersed throughout the city, de Jong said, with most already in R-1 and RC-1 neighbourhoods – ones that were there before but the owners are coming forward.

City data shows that of the 1,093 registered secondary suites, Ward 3 has the most with 209 as of Oct. 1. Next is Ward 12 with 163 and Ward 4 with 130. According to the data, Currie Barracks has the highest community concentration, with 46.

It’s adding to the city’s affordable housing mix, too, de Jong said, with the average rent of a secondary suite unit about 20 per cent less than a typical apartment unit.

And while providing an avenue for more market-driven housing options is important, de Jong said the main focus is ensuring that this accommodation is safe for residents.

“That’s our win in this whole thing,” he said.

Calgarians interested in more information, or to apply for a secondary suite online, can do so at Calgary.ca/suites

The city also has an open data portal that shows the concentration of registered suites by community.