Secondary suites keeping communities vibrant, affordable

Secondary suites are making life better for Calgarians from all walks of life. Whether you are a homeowner looking for extra income, a renter looking for more options, or a senior hoping to remain independent, suites are keeping our communities vibrant and affordable. Here are some of those stories:

Making rentals safer with secondary suite reform

“Secondary suites are part of the housing market,” says Gerry Baxter, Executive Director of the Calgary Residential Rental Association. “They offer an alternative to many people. It offers choice.”

He is a supporter of The City’s secondary suite program. “The one thing I’m really in favour of, and I really support, and really like, is the initiative taken by The City over the last couple of years to allow people to come forward without penalty or fear of reproach from the city and register their units.”

The suite program launched in 2018 with a two-year amnesty period encouraging owners to legalize their suites. He believes unsafe suites should be shut down and is pleased that The City allows “people to upgrade their units to make them safe – make them conform to the codes.”

Calgary’s rental market has changed in recent years, and Baxter explains that while Calgary offers a wide-range of affordable options such as condos, purpose-built apartments and houses, “People look to secondary suites because they feel they might be a little more affordable than some apartments.” But no matter the type of rental, Baxter explains that renters are always looking for “price, location and amenities.”

Suites means seniors can stay independent longer

Larry Mathieson, CEO of The Kerby Centre says, “It’s part of our mission to assist older adults stay as long as they can in their own community, and secondary suites are a great option for doing that.”

Secondary suites allow seniors to remain connected to friends and family, as well as access the amenities they are used to. Mathieson explains that suites can be an attractive intermediary step for an aging person when maintaining their own home becomes difficult; yet, they don’t want to take the next step of moving into an apartment or residence.

Secondary suites are an affordable option for seniors. In addition to living in an area they are accustomed to, Mathieson says “it is also a cost savings.” He adds, “A lot of the seniors we see have limited incomes or restricted incomes.”

When speaking with residents at the Kerby Centre, Mathieson says, “I think accommodation and housing are one of the biggest issues for seniors in Calgary, or in southern Alberta, and the majority of the people that will come through our doors would tell you they want to be as independent as they can, for as long as they can. And secondary suites just allow people to stay connected but also remain independent in a way as well.”

Suites create sustainable and diverse neighbourhoods

When Francisco Alaniz Uribe, Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, at the University of Calgary works with community associations, he asks them how they can “contribute to a more sustainable, more compact city” to accommodate future people. He believes it’s “a good way to start our conversation in terms of diversity or densification.”

Uribe explains that secondary suites offer flexibility. The stereotypical family unit has changed and people who live in more established neighbourhoods may have opportunities that may otherwise be difficult for them, Uribe says. He adds, that the people may no longer need a car because “they are close to transit and places of employment or education.”

He explains that there are long-term benefits to secondary suites with regards to urban density. When communities grow, schools become more viable, and there is an increase in neighbourhood destinations and businesses, making communities more walkable and more diverse. Uribe says, “When we have more people, we have more amenities and more social interaction. There are many benefits of having a richer community.”

But when looking at other cities, Uribe recommends the city should be flexible with the other pieces of the puzzle. “The big objectives are to provide a diversity of housing, affordable for different types of family units. And it’s also affordable in a potential way of ageing in place which is also very important. Long-term I think it is going to open up more of that.”

The City of Calgary actively encourages anyone who owns a secondary suite to apply for the necessary permits before June 1, 2020 and the end of the amnesty period by visiting