Secondary Suites Dilemma

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  • Topic: Semi-detached, Single-family detached home, Vancouver
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THE SECONDARY SUITES DILEMMA
A research paper examining the benefits and issues of illegal basement suites in Calgary and Vancouver.

By Mark Germiquet
ANTH 379 Tues/Thurs
Professor: Dr. Alan Smart
Due: December 4th, 2012

1. Examine a policy issue in the light of at least one, preferably more, relevant ethnographic study. Does the ethnographic perspective raise questions about the assumptions in positions proposed on that policy issue? 2. Are there reasons deriving from the ethnographic material, for example, to expect that the policy will fail or have negative unintended consequences? 3. Or what alternative possibilities are omitted from the debate that might be brought in through knowledge about the everyday life of the target population?

In 1965, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson gave a speech to the Ontario Housing Authorities , which specified that the objective of his topic was “the necessity for everybody to have a decent dwelling; not to make all homes mansions, but to ensure that none of them will be hovels.” With respect to this quote and the many issues surrounding illegal housing, everyone deserves a respectable place to call home. However, there are pros and cons to this philosophy and it’s inherent policies. This paper will examine the benefits and consequences of this issue, as they affect a city’s citizens (i.e. students, aging families, lower income classes, elderly), and a variety of other candidates in Calgary and Vancouver. Calgary’s Mayor Nenshi introduced a proposal recognizing that this proposed bylaw is both an intelligent and important decision for the future of Calgary. However, three immediately significant problems or concerns present themselves with the adoption of this bylaw in Calgary: 1) lower property value/less available housing, 2) traffic/parking congestion, and 3) the altering of the character and quality of life of the neighbourhood. Mayor Nenshi wants to ensure Calgary that the first concern (lower property value and less available housing) is a myth. The extra income derived from renting a secondary suite should actually increase the value of a home, there by increasing the aggregate value of any neighbourhoods with secondary suites. It is important to acknowledge that illegal suites already exist in our neighbourhoods, so fearing what would happen if they were introduced becomes somewhat irrelevant. “The horse is already out of the barn”, so to speak. It was also feared that secondary suites would become over-popular with middle-income tenants and potentially create an affordable housing crisis for those who are in dire need. However, drawing from similar examples in other cities, especially in Victoria BC, the uprising or popularity of secondary suites appears be a much more gradual experience.

The second worry relates to unregulated land use and increasing traffic and parking congestion. There are arguments supporting the position that the density created by secondary suites will often promote and stimulate public transportation, as well as increasing the efficiency for public services like garbage collection and emergency support, by the fact that travel distances are reduced. The third concern for Calgary is whether or not legalizing secondary suites will affect a community’s character. According to Myron Orfield, having a more integrated society will create more fiscally equal communities. As opposed to “jacking up” tax rates to pay for the infrastructure of new communities and forcing more people to move to the fringes of Calgary, openings in secondary suites will allow opportunities for more cultures and classes of people to integrate with each other instead of widening the demarcation lines between those who can afford new housing and those who cannot. Knox and Pinch also mention that in many cases, cultures or categories of people are excluded from certain communities, based on perceptions about their habits and how they might...
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