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Councillor hopes housing task force keeps Calgary ahead of a growing affordability issue

We’re in a pre-crisis with Calgary housing affordability, said Coun. Courtney Walcott, but there’s a golden opportunity to get ahead of the issue, he said.

Walcott opened the inaugural session last week of the City’s Housing and Affordability Task Force. He doesn’t sit on the task force – no councillors do – but he brought forward the plan to form it in June. It was the first-time city administration and public members gathered to begin their work.

Back in June, city council provided direction for the task force. Through August, public applicants came forward and the recruitment process was conducted. Over the next six months, the members will meet. A report is expected for June next year, prior to the revised corporate affordable housing strategy.

“We know we’re reaching a stage in size that we’re starting to have that really serious conversation that growth cannot continue to be the only reason we’re affordable,” Walcott told LiveWire Calgary.

The task force will provide advice and policy recommendations related to increasing, measuring and managing housing affordability and affordable housing in Calgary – across the entire housing continuum.

In July, city council approved five communities for edge development. In early September, they approved three more. One of the reasons many suggested was to keep a steady supply of housing for an expected 88,000 new Calgarians by 2026.

Meanwhile, a 2018 housing needs assessment done by the city showed 81,240 households were in need of affordable housing. It’s expected to rise to 100,000 households by 2026.

Explore every possible solution that’s out there

Tim Ward, Manager, Housing Solutions with the City of Calgary, and chair of the task force, said this is an opportunity to bring in community members and experts to dig into possible solutions.

He said they see the task force as a forum for ideas so they “can explore every possible solution” to address this issue.

They’re examining potential fixes for a challenge that’s just one in a confluence of cost-of-living conundrums. Calgarians are dealing with rising interest rates, utility increases, fuel prices and skyrocketing grocery costs.

Ward said they know Calgarians are facing pressures on a variety of fronts.  

They’re still implementing the current affordable housing strategy and trying to address some of the barriers Calgarians have, Ward said.

They’ll use that work as a platform to continue that work, he said.

“Then, also as a task force, to step away and think about what are the things that maybe… the big ideas that are out there that we could leverage to do something really good,” Ward said.

That’s why Walcott thinks this is a big opportunity for Calgary to get ahead of the game.

He said managing growth more stringently is crucial. Vancouver and Toronto became landlocked, limiting supply and sending prices skyrocketing.   Average home prices, based on MLS listings in April, showed both Vancouver and Toronto sitting at roughly $1.35 million. Calgary, in comparison, was $511,000.

“We need to start planning ahead. Being proactive,” he said.

“This is going to be the thing that’s going to make Calgary stand out in the future. Not only do we get to tell people we’re more affordable, we’re going to actually have policies in place to try and maintain that advantage.”

Public members for the board were selected for expertise, lived experience and from different housing sectors.