Opinion: Realtor says secondary suites are a small step forward

Miki Somos weighs in on whether they’re good for our city


Photo courtesy of www.secondarysuitescalgary.com
Photo courtesy of www.secondarysuitescalgary.com

As the founder of secondarysuitescalgary.com, I am very passionate about and invested in this issue. In the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to hear all sides of the argument and have directly experienced the real need for secondary suites in Calgary.

I have personally participated in over eight secondary suite legalizations and new suite construction projects in Edmonton and also in two in Calgary. In the N.W. neighbourhood of West Hillhurst where I currently live, two homes directly across the street both have legal garage suites and there are three additional basement suites on my block. Even though I would like to, I am unable to build my own secondary suite in my home due to land size restrictions. My family converted a large home with a walkout basement into a two-generation home with a secondary suite in the basement. Currently I manage several rental suites as a landlord.  I have helped and am currently helping people buy homes and investment properties where secondary suites can be built.

We can learn a lot from Edmonton, a very similar Albertan city that has allowed secondary suites city-wide.

Many will use the argument that Edmonton is a different city, however that is not entirely true. Edmonton has similar prestigious neighborhoods such as Glenora and Crestwood that are comparable to Calgary’s S.W. neighbourhood of Mount Royal. Premium suburbs in Riverbend can be compared to Aspen Woods and other S.W. neighborhoods in Edmonton. The case is the same inner city.

When secondary suites were allowed city-wide in Edmonton, we did not see a huge influx in major issues such as parking and overcrowding.

In Calgary I have been monitoring RC-2 and other zoning areas that allow secondary suites already (most inner city zoning allows secondary suites). However, more than half the homes, even though they are zoned for them, will not qualify to build a secondary suite.

The reality is that even by allowing the city-wide secondary suites, we would not see much of a change. The current land size requirements eliminate a large portion of homes that would otherwise qualify for secondary suite development.

Converting an existing home is not an easy task. There are multiple building code requirements: ceiling heights, separate heating, layout and accessibility of furnace, hot water tank and power panels. These make it difficult and even impossible in many homes to satisfy current building codes without a great expense. Because of this, many people choose to skip the legal process and build them illegally to save thousands of dollars.

Even if Calgary allows city-wide secondary suites, it will be only a small step forward. The real victory will come when attached homes and 25-ft lot homes will be able to develop their suites; then we will see a real increase in affordable housing.

Secondary suites help people on many levels. Along my journey, I have seen the benefits starting with the suite being a mortgage helper to young families and single first-time home buyers. It allows them to get into a house instead of an apartment.

The aging population is able to stay in their homes after all their kids have moved out, and offset the cost of home upkeep and high taxes.

Large homes can be converted into two-generation homes where younger families can care for their elderly parents while the parents maintain independent living in a self-contained suite.

Secondary suites act as a great option for investors and enable them to purchase homes in a rising market.

Families with children can have a separate living unit for live-in nannies.

Luxury homes can have suites as guest homes for visitors and family.

Affordable housing can be created to accommodate a growing population and a shortage of rental units in Calgary.

As a landlord, when one of my suites becomes available I get over 100 calls in a single day just by placing a free ad on Kijiji. Suites now rent in hours instead of days. The sad reality is that many families with young kids and single parents have no other choice, and basement suites are their only option for a place to live.

I believe Calgary needs to make the first small step forward and legalize secondary suites city-wide.

Miki Somos is a Calgary realtor, landlord and founder of www.secondarysuitescalgary.com

 Content has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.