ACalgary city councillor who opposes legalization of secondary suites says he is happy to continue meeting with post-secondary student associations about the issue, but only if the students are willing to compromise.
Ward Sutherland, councillor for Ward 1 and an opponent of legalization, believes that colleges and universities in the city have dropped the ball on increasing student housing accommodation.
“They could be adding more units to alleviate the housing crunch,” Sutherland said in a recent interview.
“And they haven’t done anything yet,” said Sutherland, who’s district includes the university.
On campus at U of C, there is an undergraduate residence building under construction that is expected to open for the September, 2015. It will add space for 268 students to live on campus.
However, in order to erect that residence tower, the Norquay, Brewster, and Castle residences, which collectively house 228 undergraduate and graduate students, will be demolished.
SAIT, meanwhile, has opened two new residential towers in the past 10 years, and is contemplating building a third.
While sympathetic to the students’ cause, Sutherland does not believe it’s realistic to allow city-wide legalization of suites without dealing with safety issues first.
“The intention is to create a safe living environment for students,” Sutherland said.
“If a complaint is made, the ideal would be to not get kicked out by the landlord, and have the space brought to a safe standard.”
Druh Farrell, councillor of Ward 7, is in favour of the city-wide permitting of secondary suites, which are an additional separate living space built on a property that would normally accommodate only one.
Through discussions within her ward, Farrell has found that there is a fear of renters in many suburban communities that might be fueling the opposition from some citizens on the issue.
“We need to dispel the myths of renting and start changing attitudes,” said Farrell, whose ward takes in SAIT.
“The system we have proposed works beautifully in other cities. I don’t see why it can’t work here.”
City council will be meeting in December to discuss the possibility of allowing suites to be permitted in the four inner-city wards, 7, 8, 9, and 11, before potentially debating the expansion of that zoning across the city in 2015.
Sutherland, along with nine other councillors on the 15-member city council, have been opposed to the motion.
If rejected, Calgary will remain the only major Canadian city to restrict city-wide allowance of secondary suites.
Levi Nilson, U of C Student’s Union vice president external, claims to have been leading the charge among Calgary’s post-secondary schools to push for city-wide legalization of secondary suites.
“We’ve been heavily involved in advocating to city council since this past spring,” Nilson said.
“With a rental vacancy rate hovering around two per cent, it’s especially difficult for students who frequently need shorter-term agreements to find a safe, affordable living space,” he said.
The SAIT Students Association has been onside with the groups at the university and Mount Royal on secondary suites.
But Josh Bettle, SAITSA’s vice president external, has needed to change his strategy when dealing with city councillors and fellow post-secondary student associations.
“The U of C and MRU recently stopped inviting us to their discussions with city councillors,” Bettle said.
“Over the next few months, we’ll be focusing on raising student awareness on campus and supporting the council’s motion however we can.”
According to Bettle, SAIT is in a unique position when it comes to the potential of legalizing suites in the inner wards.
As a polytechnic, the trades programs will be able to produce graduates who can assist in the creation and maintenance of those suites to accommodate students in Calgary.
Bettle plans to ensure that there is a SAITSA representative at every city council meeting this winter.
Alesta Filbrandt, a first-year student in the architectural technologies program at SAIT, experienced several squalid rental situations over the summer and believes that Calgary needs to build upwards, rather than outward, to remedy the housing crunch.
The system we’ve proposed works beautifully in other cities. I don’t see why it can’t work here. – Druh Farrell
“I’m a student. I should be focusing on my school work,” Filbrandt said in an interview.
“Not worrying about how long it’s going to take me to get home, if my faucet is going to explode on me, or how to balance two jobs and class-time to pay for a place to sleep.”
A study analyzing the positives of legalizing secondary suites, conducted by MRU’s journalism program, can be found at the Calgary Secondary Suite Investigation website.