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Secondary Suites Update from the RCA President

posted Apr 22, 2015, 8:33 AM by Amanda Thomas   [ updated Apr 22, 2015, 8:35 AM ]
On April 21, 2015, an information session was held on “Secondary Suites”.  The event was well attended by representatives from all the affected communities as well members of City Council for the affected Wards, and City of Calgary Administration.  Based on my assessment, almost everyone was in favor of secondary suites.  The concerns raised were not with Secondary Suites though – the concerns are with the City of Calgary plans as it relates to the issue.


A secondary suite, also referred to as a basement suite or mother-in-law suite, is a self-contained living space consisting of a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen located within or on the same property as a single family home.


Conceptually, the idea of Secondary Suites is a good one.  Calgary was, and remains to be, one of the fastest growing cities in the City of Calgary.  With a shortage of rental space, many people have nowhere to go.  The result is an increase in illegal suites that do not always follow proper code and/or fire regulations.  In the past, this has also resulted in loss of life.  The most noteworthy was a fire that took place in 2009 that killed Tiffany Cox, Colleen Mantei, and Johnathan St. Pierre.


When we look at other cities, most if not all have passed some kind of Secondary Suite regulations that allow for it.  Calgary is one of the remaining hold outs.  And in my opinion, it is not because Calgarians are against it, but, they feel that they have not been educated enough about the issue to make an informed decision.


Proponents, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, are pushing for a blanket approval of secondary suites to ease the city's shortage of rental housing. Nenshi and those that support his position on council say the city needs to ensure that existing illegal suites are regulated.  This is true – they should be and do need to be regulated.


Calgary has thousands of illegal suites in detached homes. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) estimates there are roughly 16,000 illegal suites in Calgary, which has more than 272,000 detached homes.


More than 53% of homes in Calgary arte currently zones RC1 or R1, prohibiting secondary suites.


In May 2015, City Council plans on debating a new by-law that would rezone Wards 7, 8, 9 and 11 for boarder secondary suite rules.  One of these, proposed by Councilor Andre Chabot, would allow an 18-month exemption for the need for a development permit for suites where they are already permitted.  Secondly, the proposal would rezone all R-1 properties in the affected wards to R-1S, which means that secondary suites would be permitted anywhere in the affected Wards.


It should be noted that to date, 32 reports have come to council on Secondary Suites since 2005.  Each time, the issue was put to a vote, the motion was denied.  One has to ask – why?  Why has it been so hard for City Council to pass a motion on an idea that is supposed to be good?


Your Community Association has just started to review the information, and plans on issuing a letter to our Councilor Gian-Carlo Carra, before the May 2015 vote so that are voices as a community are on the record.  Having said that, one of the things that we have received is a motion that was put forward by the Cambrian Heights Community.  What we like about it is that it does not come out for or against Secondary Suites – but, instead focuses on asking the City of Calgary to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place prior to making any changes.


If you have thoughts or views on this issue, please feel free to contact me directly at


Douglas Ratke

President, Riverbend Community Association