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‘Bold’ affordable housing plans unveiled in Calgary

The City of Calgary is expecting as many as 100,000 new citizens to arrive over the next four years, pressuring an already tight housing and rental market.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott called the city’s affordable housing task force’s six recommendations to improve affordability and access “courageous.”

On Thursday, the Housing and Affordability Task Force delivered the six thematic recommendations with the goal of adding more than 4,000 market and non-market homes to Calgary’s housing stock, above what’s typically built annually.  Plus, they’re hoping to foster greater cooperation in Calgary’s housing sector to improve overall affordability.

The recommendations are broken down into six areas: Making it easier to build homes across the city, making more land available for housing, ensuring the supply of affordable housing meets the needs of Calgarians equitably, convening the housing sector to collaborate, increasing investment to support housing providers and ensure safety for people who are renting.

It also includes a $100 million annual request to acquire land or use existing city land for non-market housing. This could be funded through development levies or property taxes.  

The Housing and Affordability Task Force was created last year to address the growing issue of housing insecurity in Calgary. For the past eight months, the group has been reviewing best practices and engaged 18 experienced panelists.

Coun. Walcott admired the speed at which this group worked to come up with recommendations.

“This work is actually so challenging because these systems that are in place are decades old, and to move this ship into the right direction, it’s going to take bold, decisive action,” he said.

“I’m excited, it’s bold, it’s courageous, and I’m just waiting to be able to have this conversation with the public.”

Tim Ward, chair of the task force, said the panel came together to create transformative steps to address affordability.

“The recommendations recognize the complexity of Calgary’s housing affordability challenges and are comprehensive in their scope, reflecting the need to increase and diversify our housing supply, and to significantly increase the amount of affordable housing in Calgary,” he said.

The recommendations will be presented at the June 6 city council meeting for debate and approval.

Digging into the details

Ward said there was an urgent need to address the situation immediately as Calgary’s population projections continue to grow.

“We’re experiencing very high population growth in Calgary and we can expect that to continue for many years,” he said.

“That is really welcomed news, but it does put pressure on our housing supply and housing affordability.”

The City of Calgary had projected an additional 80,000 people by 2026 during their November 2022 budget deliberations. Now, those numbers could reach 100,000 people inside four years.

Recent Calgary Real Estate Board numbers show a record high price in March for Calgary single-family homes, and rents, year-over-year, have jumped more than 20 per cent.

Among the details to achieve some of the recommendations, include removing potential land use barriers, such as the single-detached homes special policy area. This tool has been discussed to preserve single-family detached areas in the city. This was included as a part of the non-statutory Guide for Local Area Planning (LAP) and been discussed in the North Hill LAP. Other communities have expressed a desire to have it included in their LAPs.

Also, allowing more land didn’t necessarily mean on the city’s outskirts, Ward said. It could include available land already inside city limits

Walcott acknowledged that could cause some angst among Calgary homeowners. He said this is a challenge that everyone has to come together to solve.  

“We’ve heard that conversation for years now, and the thing that I’m often reminding people is, if you actually want to build housing affordability in this city, it will take a community effort, working together to ensure that choice is available everywhere,” he said.

“In these moments, the choice is not available everywhere where it’s restricted. That’s the area where we have the highest degree of community contention and the highest degree of focus redevelopment in the space where we can actually balance development across the city.”

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong expected there would be pushback from some communities.

“It’s incumbent upon councillors to be open and listening and understanding and advocating for them on the June 6 council meeting,” he said.


Housing and Affordability T… by Darren Krause

The need for a comprehensive strategy

Walcott said that there’s no one thing that must be done first. He said the key was to create a coordinated plan.

“If you are not attacking the spectrum from start to finish, then all you’re going to do is put a Band-Aid when you need a comprehensive solution. That’s what this is for,” he said.

Though, Walcott said approving $100 million to acquire land for non-market housing is the one thing he’s excited about and believes has tremendous potential.

Patricia Jones, president of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, who also sat on the task force, said that it’s become increasingly difficult to help vulnerable Calgarians achieve home security. This plan helps move that forward, she said.

“I gotta tell you that we have been stymied because there is simply not enough homes and not enough choice for the people that we serve,” she said.

“We are deeply concerned that this number is going to rise sharply and the people impacted may not be who you think they are.”

Among other notable items in the recommendations is a property tax exemption for non-profit organizations providing non-market housing. There’s also a plan for $10 million annually in capital funding to provide housing for Indigenous and Equity Deserving populations.

It also calls for the disposal of city-owned lands within Transit Oriented Development sites suitable for housing. Finally, it suggests $50 million annually for residential uses in the Downtown Calgary Development Incentive program to bridge funding requirements until provincial or federal money can be secured.