News / Calgary

Calgary's rents soar to highest in Canada as secondary-suite advocates lament lack of reform

Hours after city council rejected a new framework to allow secondary suites city-wide and streamline their approval process, Canada’s housing authority revealed Calgary now has the highest rents of any metropolitan area in a nationwide study.

Average rents in October soared to $1,322 per month for a two-bedroom unit in Calgary, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s fall rental market report.

That’s up eight per cent from last year, and puts Calgary ahead of the average rent in Vancouver ($1,311) and Toronto ($1,251).

"For people earning in that $25,000 to $40,000 income bracket, these are rents that are just out of reach," said Calgary Chamber president Adam Legge. "It makes it increasingly difficult for people in those occupations of lower wage to stay in Calgary or to attract someone to Calgary with those kinds of incomes."

Levi Nilson of the University of Calgary Students’ Union had also pressed councillors to approve the package and said “it was a little disappointing” to see it rejected but he was still pleased to see “some progress” on secondary suites.

Council voted late Monday to have city staff bring proposed bylaw changes allowing secondary suites in Wards 7, 8, 9 and 11 and prepare another report on the impacts of allowing suites within a certain radius of major transit stops.

“A lot of students live in those wards and near transit,” Nilson said. “So, we’re happy that something happened.”

Council’s decision to draft a new bylaw for the four inner-city wards is “a very significant move,” said Greg Miller of Calgarians for Secondary Suites, a citizen group that supports reform.

While he had hoped for “something more comprehensive, ”Miller said that outcome from Monday’s vote represents “a really good first step” toward broader changes in Calgary’s secondary-suites policy, which remains far more restrictive than virtually every other major Canadian city.

“I think we’ll learn from what goes on in these four wards and we’ll reassure the rest of the city that legal suites are, in fact, a very good thing,” Miller said.

Legge, however, maintained his disappointment in council’s decision, saying it only means “further research, further delay, and further costs” while representing “miniscule progress” at a “glacial” place.

“We had a very reasoned, thoughtful and incremental proposal already in front of council,” he said. “At this rate, maybe in about 10 years we’ll get some firm decision on secondary suites.”

Illegal secondary suites, meanwhile, abound in Calgary, according Cliff De Jong of the city’s planning, development, and assessment department.

“They are everywhere,” he told council Monday, in response to a question about ensuring safety regulations and building codes.

"Our own census information would lead us to believe there are somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000, but other agencies that work on the ground are suggesting that number is woefully under-reported,” De Jong said. ”So the scope is large.”

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