People who object to higher housing densities in existing residential neighbourhoods may not be doing themselves any favours in the long term.
The issue of how many secondary suites should be allowed in neighbourhoods has come up once more in Red Deer, with a new look at the bylaws governing their numbers in the city, and the recent opportunity for owners of unregistered suites to “come in” and get them properly inspected and registered.
The issue is current in Calgary, too. Getting more low-cost housing into that fast-growing city was one of the campaign promises made by their mayor, Naheed Nenshi, last fall. He intends to make good on his promise, in part by promoting the building of more secondary suites in existing neighbourhoods.
The issue is as controversial there as it is here.
One caller to Calgary CBC radio complained that housing density bylaws amount to a contract with home buyers. People bought their homes under one set of rules that governed how many people and cars there should be and to change the bylaws now was akin to breaking faith with taxpaying residents.
That’s a strong argument but ultimately it cannot be persuasive.
Here’s a local example why: Some years ago, a group of residents in Rosedale objected to a proposed school near their homes, on land that had been designated by planners as the site of a future school.
Their argument? They had accepted the word of a trusted realtor, who assured them that although the land was designated for a school, one would never be built there. That unwritten, unsubstantiated assurance became a type of contract for some of the people who built homes in that new subdivision and they felt that authorities were breaking faith.
Well, amazingly enough, there is no school in that neighbourhood now and considering the way development has proceeded elsewhere, it may never be built after all.
Fast forward a couple of decades from that decision. The residents are getting older and may soon need to cash in the equity in their homes to finance their declining years. People do age, people do decide to move.
But what’s a top consideration for young people looking to buy one of these homes? Having a school nearby, that’s what — and there isn’t one. What’s the loss in resale value of a home with no school nearby, versus one that has one? Twenty thousand? More? that’s if you can sell at all in our tight market.
Still have no regrets? That’s good, but a host of potential home buyers might disagree with you.
Let’s switch that consideration to secondary suites. What’s the value of a home to a retired person, who can legally rent a suite for monthly income, versus one where you can’t? How much more easily does a home with a rental suite sell to a young family who may not qualify for a mortgage, except for having that rental income?
Some issues have a little more gravity than others. Being able to remain independent in our own homes longer during our lengthening retirements — or being able to purchase a first home at all — mean more than looking at extra cars parked on the street in the minds of future home buyers.
The equity one thinks they may have in their homes as a cushion against a declining savings account might be tested by a For Sale sign on the lawn that takes a long time to get its Sold tag.
Cities in Alberta have been in rapid growth for so long that we think rapid growth is normal. But there are limits. The future is trending toward a higher portion of infill growth in cities; higher densities, and a pulling away from maxed-out floor plans in sprawling subdivisions and mortgages to match.
If you object too much to change, you may end up trapped.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.