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Committee approves Calgary secondary suite fee amnesty extension

Some councillors suggest that it's time to sunset the suite amnesty program.

Those seeking secondary suite fee amnesty in Calgary will have at least two more years, but councillors are growing wary of funding the relief in perpetuity.

Development permit and secondary suite registry fees would be waived until 2026 under the proposed fee schedule that was approved at Calgary’s Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting on Nov. 8. That would extend the amnesty into its eighth year, according to city administration. it was set to expire at the end of 2023, reinstating fees Jan. 1, 2024.

The Secondary Suites Amnesty Program waives these fees – $679 – often seen as an additional financial barrier to registering suites. The program also continues the building code interpretation for qualified existing suites to only require minimum life safety standards, the city said.

According to the city, there are 11,000 entries on the secondary suites registry, with nearly 90 per cent added during the amnesty period. Prior to the program’s initiation in 2018, the city said it would see 10 to 15 suites added to the registry monthly. Now, they said it’s consistently at 250 per month, on average.

“Secondary suites have played a critical role in housing affordability in Calgary and will continue to provide supply at the more affordable end of the rental market,” the admin report read.

Many councillors agreed that extending the amnesty through 2026 helped ensure a safe and steady additional housing supply. They also thought the city could do even more to help.

“This works both in favour of having people register their suites, which makes them safer. But it also helps with affordability, which we know we’re in a bit of a housing crisis right now,” said Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian.

Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal homed in on accessibility, particularly around language barriers and difficulty in using the city’s website.

“Sometimes I hear our website it not helping. It’s very cumbersome, and that sometimes leads (people) into making different decisions,” he said.

Amnesty doesn’t mean forever

While there was unanimous support for the extension to 2026, some councillors, including the committee chair, Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who thought there should be an end point to the program.

“I actually did have mixed feelings about this,” she said.

“Amnesty is not meant to be 10 plus years.”

Sharp said that the city needs to look at the program and how it’s promoting safety, regardless of the affordability factor.

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said in the scheme of things, when proper suite conversions sometimes cost in the thousands (or more) this isn’t a huge savings for them.

“The suite registry program was to ensure that that we don’t have any more of these illegal suites going up that aren’t safe, or at least limit their ability to advertise,” he said.

“The amnesty on the development permit is not a huge deterrent, but it is maybe that little bit of an extra catalyst to try and move some of those illegal suites into a legal life-safety sort of position.”

The real challenge in making suites legal is the regulatory and building code requirements, Chabot said.

The City of Calgary’s Q3 report on construction values showed a massive increase in secondary suite builds compared with Q3 2022. They said that in new communities, secondary suite applications rose by 114 per cent over the same period in 2022, and up 33 per cent in established communities in the same timeframe.

“The growth in applications for secondary suites across Calgary are for both new builds and existing homes. This has helped us reach over 11,000 safe, registered secondary suites,” said Ulrik Seward with the City of Calgary.

“This will help us continue to increase the number of available safe and affordable housing options for renters and owners.”

The recommendation still needs final approval at an upcoming full meeting of Calgary city council, and included in the upcoming budget adjustments.