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Study on secondary suite applications reveals inconsistency in Calgary city council decisions

By Saima Asad, May 11 2017 —

A recent study revealed that city council’s decisions to approve or deny secondary suite applications were largely random. The study considered 265 applications between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2016 and found that 83 per cent were approved. The study aimed to investigate prejudice in council’s decisions based on gender and race, amongst other factors.

In order to build a new secondary suite or legalize an existing one, applicants must obtain any relevant building, trade or development permits and come before council, where applicants are approved on a case-by-case basis.

The study was funded by Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell and Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pincott’s offices.

“We looked at what we thought was a pretty sweeping series of influencers and what we discovered was the decisions were random,” Farrell said.

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The difference between male and female applicants chance for approval was statistically insignificant.

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Seventy-six per cent of applications from visible minorities were approved.

The research concluded that these factors did not appear to sway city council’s decisions. Despite this, minority groups were less likely to have their applications approved. Caucasian applicants were approved 91 per cent of the time, while 76 per cent of applications from visible minorities were approved. Similar patterns emerged when applicants were analyzed based on their accents. Eighty-eight per cent of applicants with no accent were approved, compared to 82 per cent of applicants with audible accents. The difference in approval rate between male and female applicants was marginal. Eighty-six per cent of male applicants while 85 per cent of female applicants were approved.

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Applicants with an audible accent had a lower success rate than those without accents.

The study showed that applicants who shared personal stories were more likely to be approved. Farrell said applications are meant to be evaluated for potential planning issues and the physical appearance of the suite, not personal anecdotes.

“Personal stories should not be relevant to council’s decisions. At council we continually say that applicants do not have to share personal details, nor are they relevant, and yet, they appear to sway council decisions,” Pincott said in a statement.

Farrell hopes the study will help streamline the application process for secondary suites.

“The reason behind this study was to try and find some common thread in order to come up with a bylaw that could move us forward,” she said. “We did not do that.”

Farrell believes city council will continue to make decisions at random until there is a change of council.

In an interview with the Gauntlet, mayor Naheed Nenshi said he plans on making secondary suites a focus of his re-election campaign.

“It is very disappointing to me that we haven’t been able to get [at least] eight members of council to agree on something I think is correct from both a policy and a moral perspective [and is] something that every other major city in Canada did years ago,” he said. “That is to ensure there is a supply of legalized secondary suites in every district across the city.”

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