Oct. 20, 2017

Study sheds light on how secondary suites are used in Calgary

Haskayne's Westman Centre uncovers reasons given for applying for a legal suite in a home

Approximately one in four applicants who want to develop a secondary suite in Calgary do so to house family members, according to a new study. Haskayne’s Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies conducted an analysis of 294 publicly available applications for a secondary suite to better understand why people apply for a legal suite in their homes.

Not surprisingly, 63 per cent of applicants indicated they wanted the suite for rental purposes, but 26 per cent cited family reasons. The other 11 per cent said the parcel of land was ideal for rezoning. The study "Relatives or Rentals? Secondary Suites Through a Multigenerational Family Lens" was recently published in The Canadian Geographer.

“We were surprised to find that one in four applicants are proposing a suite for family reasons — to accommodate family beyond what we typically consider the nuclear family in multigenerational families,” says Pernille Goodbrand, research associate at the Westman Centre (pictured above).

Looking at the applicants’ submissions, the study’s authors found varying personal reasons. They were: to foster generational independence, to provide easier care for family members, to share household tasks and expenses, to facilitate the immigration of family members, and to accommodate visiting family.

“When looking at current demographic trends, perhaps the findings are not that surprising: Multigenerational families are a growing proportion of Canadian households, but our current housing stock tend to accommodate single families, and therefore it is not surprising that some families chose to retrofit space to fit their needs,” she says.

Secondary suites have been an ongoing source of debate at city hall as Calgary is one of the few large cities that requires city council approval for individual suite applications.

The study was co-authored by the University of Calgary’s Tamara Humphrey and Jyoti Gondek, the former director of the Westman Centre and newly elected Ward 3 city councillor.

Goodbrand says the findings of the study indicate to her that allowing for change is key. “A lot of secondary suites are being rented, still, we need to think beyond rentals when we think of secondary suites. Sometimes secondary suites are thought to create instability in neighbourhoods due to a perceived influx of renters, but the ability for housing to adapt to family size, life course and economic circumstances might actually stabilize neighbourhoods by allowing families to adapt their housing to their changing needs rather than moving — whether this means accommodating family members, or renting out the basement.”