A SHEPHERD SPEAKS

Bishop Fred Henry

February 20, 2012

This song, same tune as Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, tells the story of several children on a merry-go-round that – in a sadistic twist – collapses because so many children are riding it. The circle game that accompanies it is similar to the one for Ring Around the Rosie.

"The merry-go-round goes 'round and 'round,
The children laughed and laughed and laughed,
So many were going 'round and 'round,
That the merry-go-round collapsed."

 

The circle singing game that accompanies these verses consists of participants standing in a circle and holding hands, followed by skipping in one direction as they sing the tune that accompanies these verses. As the word "collapsed" in the second verse is sung, the group usually falls down into a heap.

This is an apt metaphor of how we seem to be proceeding in dealing with the issue of secondary suites in Calgary.

On March 7, 2011, city council debated long into the night regarding secondary suites. In the end, it decided to defer the decision until December so the administration could work out more of the details and report back to council.

"The merry-go-round goes 'round and 'round,
The children laughed and laughed and laughed, . . ."

 

END HOMELESSNESS

It's time to get serious about ending and not merely managing homelessness. For Christians, our Sacred Scriptures and the Church's teaching on social justice provide motivation and reasons for engagement in this cause.

God is not only the shepherd who seeks out the lost (Isaiah 40.11) but also the powerful warrior who will defeat the exiling agent (Babylon) in order to permit the people to go home (Isaiah 40.10).

God is powerful and tender, terrifying and gentle. The good news of this literature is that God is aligned against the organization of the world on behalf of the homeless ones who still yearn to go home (cf. Jeremiah 29.5-14; Ezekiel 37.1-14; Isaiah 40.3-4; 43.5-6).

The actions of Jesus are home-bringing events. He came especially to the outcasts, displaced and rejected ones in society (the lepers, the demon possessed, the sick, the lame). And he acted toward them in ways so that they could be "at home" again (Luke 4.16-19).

It is time to stop the merry-go-round and take positive steps to increase the stock of safe, affordable housing in Calgary.

Calgary needs more affordable housing for lower-income residents. Although it is difficult to get an exact number, there is currently a wait list of more than 2,000 people for social housing in Calgary.

Over the past decade, Calgary has lost about 1,000 units per year of low-cost rental housing (Steve Pomeroy, Housing Strategy Review prepared by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, 2010).

The informal rental market, which includes secondary suites, is estimated to include as many as 64,000 units in Calgary. Many of these are illegal (City of Calgary Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy, 2002.)

Secondary suites are the most cost-effective way to add affordable housing without the need for government subsidies. Secondary-suite income helps potential homeowners qualify for mortgages and make payments.

MAKES CENTS

It costs less to add to or renovate a house for a secondary suite than to build apartments. (A study for the Ontario Ministry of Housing in 1999 found that suites could be developed in large urban centres at a cost of 40 to 50 per cent of the typical new one-bedroom unit.)

Secondary suites allow families to stay together, providing a separate space for older children, aging family members, those with special needs and caregivers.

The City of Calgary will be better able to enforce health, safety and community bylaws on both illegal and legal suites. By knowing the true number of people in a community, governments can plan infrastructure needs and older communities will be revitalized.

Calgary is the only major city in Canada to not have a policy that allows legal suites city-wide. In seven other western Canadian cities with more permissive secondary suite policies, development has been gradual. Secondary suites can increase the value of a home and if there are many in a neighbourhood, the overall property value for everyone increases.

It is within a property owner's right to build a secondary suite, as long as the proper processes and protocols are followed.

PEOPLE SAY 'YES'

Most Calgarians already support secondary suites. (A statistically valid and random telephone survey with 501 Calgarians conducted in fall 2009.)

  • 84 per cent of Calgarians supported the development of new secondary suites.
  • 85 per cent of Calgarians supported the legalization of existing suites.
  • 76 per cent of Calgarians support secondary suites in their own community.
  • 94 per cent of those who live in a suite do so because the rent is affordable.
  • 68 per cent of those who rented out a suite did so to earn extra income.

What can you do to stop the merry-go-round? Contact your member of city council to tell them you support secondary suites in Calgary. Don't let a vocal minority make this decision for all Calgarians.