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Calgary’s affordable housing solutions being taken back to Ottawa

Ontarians might be seeing more than just advertisements for the province of Alberta in the coming months, as made-in-Calgary solutions to affordable housing are being taken back to Ottawa to help with their affordable housing crisis.

MP for Ottawa Centre, Yasir Naqvi, who also serves as the Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness, said he was in Calgary on Oct. 6 to take meetings with organizations such as HomeSpace and Attainable Homes. He wants to take learnings from Calgary back home.

Naqvi launched a task force in July, to revitalize Ottawa’s downtown core. Calgary launched their downtown revitalization strategy in 2021.

“I find that Calgary is actually a bit ahead in deploying really effective strategies to bring people back to the downtown core to live, work, and visit.”

“My purpose here, as always, is grappling through the similar challenges now because of the pandemic, to learn from what city of Calgary has done quite effectively, and the kind of partnerships that federal government can play in those strategies, so that we can we can use those success stories in my community of Ottawa.”

He called those meetings in Calgary remarkable, with lots of valuable information to take back to Ottawa.

“I’m incredibly amazed by the leadership that Calgary is demonstrating. I cannot wait to share that with the community and business leaders that I’m working with in Ottawa through the Task Force on Downtown Revitalization, to see how we can take some of these models and deploy them in my community of Ottawa,” said Naqvi.

Ottawa seeing similar patterns as Calgary

Among the challenges that Ottawa is facing is a hollowing out of their downtown core. Workers have been slow to return to offices.

In the Q3 2022 CBRE report on Canadian office figures, Ottawa has continued to show a decline in Class A office utilization, despite having an overall lower vacancy rate than Calgary. Ottawa had an 11.5 per cent vacancy rate versus Calgary’s at 32.9 per cent. However, Calgary had positive 366,837 sq. ft. in office space absorption in Q3, versus negative 294,743 sq. ft. in Ottawa, with increasing vacancy in that city versus declining in Calgary.

Naqvi pointed to the $16.6 million in federal funding for HomeSpace’s conversion of the disused office tower at 707 – 7 Avenue SW, now known as the Neoma Building, as a role that the federal government can play in transforming downtown.

“Investments like the ones we’re seeing with HomeSpace, where we’re converting an office building into homes for people who are marginalized in a community is really the kind of investments that we need to make in communities like Calgary and across the country,” he said.

Models and funding he was looking at would also benefit Calgarians directly.

“We’re also looking at different models, like rent, or rent-to-own types of models, where I think Calgary will be a really good candidate as well,” Naqvi said.

That project also received $2 million from the provincial government, and $5.5 million from the City of Calgary. Private donors provided the remainder of the $6 million for construction.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek in September said that “Calgary has demonstrated that vacant office space can be repurposed to help address the housing crisis in Canada.”

“Together, with support from all levels of government and several generous private donors we have created a space that offers families a pathway to stability through safe housing,” she said.

Naqvi said that it was a priority for all orders of government to work together to create sufficient housing for those in need.

“Whether it’s in Alberta, or in Ontario, or any other province or territory across our country, my message always is let’s work together, let’s find ways where there’s resources in terms of dollars, or building codes, or development approvals,” he said.

“Let’s find ways to work together so that we can build affordable housing as quickly as possible, and have it for people who who need it so so desperately.”

Sustainable non-inflationary funding the goal

He addressed the issue of inflationary costs on Canadians by saying that they want to deal with the “squeeze” people are feeling on their spending power.

“We all have to focus on finding those meaningful supports for people, targeted support for those who are impacted the most, in a responsible way that does not fuel inflation, either,” Naqvi said.

“While we’re doing that, we need to make sure that we continue to make investments in important infrastructure like affordable housing so that as we get out of this pandemic, and people are starting to rebuild their lives, they have safe, affordable homes available to them.”

When asked about what he meant by responsible spending, he pointed to highly targeted and time-limited funding programs by the federal government with either clear end dates, or income requirements.

Among those were the federal government’s doubling of the GST rebate, which is set to end in six months. Also, the joint Liberal Party and NDP confidence-and-supply agreement over dental care for youth under 12 years of age.