News / Calgary

Secondary suites shaping up to be key Calgary election issue

Calgary’s controversial secondary-suite issue was thrust back onto the council agenda Monday and likely secured its place as a key issue in October’s municipal election.

Citing a near-zero vacancy rate and an especially dire need for post-flood rental accommodation, Ald. John Mar raised a sudden motion to legalize secondary suites across the city to relieve the housing crunch.

Mass secondary-suite legalization has been repeatedly raised – and repeatedly shot down – in the past, but Mar said the recent flood damage makes it an "urgent issue" that council should now reconsider.

“We have been absolutely immersed in a crisis,” he said, adding that the housing stock in flood-affected areas of his ward like Mission and Cliff Bungalow has been “wiped out.”

Ald. Druh Farrell said it’s “unacceptable” that many existing secondary suites in Sunnyside that pre-date the current bylaw and had been grandfathered in cannot be legally rebuilt after suffering major flood damage.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi called that quirk of law “ridiculous” and said it will result in “a significant loss of rental housing in the flooded communities.”

But most aldermen were not willing to suddenly eliminate the city’s secondary-suite restriction, defeating Mar’s motion by a 9-6 vote.

“It’s not right for us to do a mass land use change on people who have not had a chance to have any input on it,” said Ald. Jim Stevenson, adding that such a move would make it impossible for Calgarians to choose to live in single-family-dwelling communities.

Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart, who voted against the motion, said citizens will have their say on the matter in the October election.

“I am more than willing to take this on the campaign trail,” she said. “I would like it to come back after the new council is elected.”

Stage set for fall vote:

  • Numerous members of council said their individual position on secondary suites would likely be a key campaign issue.
  • Ald. Peter Demong took things a step further and suggested a plebiscite to go along with the municipal election in October.
  • Council requested a report on Calgary’s housing situation for further discussion at its next meeting on Monday, July 29.

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