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Calgary city council scraps recommendations from housing task force

Calgary city council has rejected its housing task force recommendations after worries over how some of the solutions would impact certain citizens.

The 33 actions under six primary recommendations put forward by a panel of housing experts lost in a 7-8 vote during Tuesday’s regular meeting of Calgary city council.

Among the changes would have been a “city-initiated rezoning” that would have enabled greater base density in Calgary communities. That would allow townhouses, duplexes and semi-detached in any area of the city. The recommendations would have seen more land made available for affordable housing and non-market housing in the city.

It also called for the abolition of a special policy area for single-family homes in local planning, the elimination of parking minimums for developments and incentives to increase the number of secondary suites.

The goal was to help create 1,000 more market homes annually in Calgary through these measures to help address affordability in the city.

Couns. Sonya Sharp, Jennifer Wyness, Sean Chu, Richard Pootmans, Terry Wong, Andre Chabot, Dan McLean and Peter Demong voted against the recommendations.

To start the conversation Tuesday, housing task force member Teresa Goldstein said that today was the time for bold action on a housing crisis in Calgary. She said the city’s population is expected to grow by 110,000 in the next four years.

“We need a diverse range of housing options in all communities so that all Calgarians can find homes that meet their needs,” she said.

“If no action is taken now, housing affordability will continue to erode and an alarming pace.”

Public consultation on key elements

Councillors heard how the creation of “city-initiated zoning” – Residential Grade-Oriented Infill (R-CG) – would help improve affordability as it would not only add more choice in a community but also the collective impact across Calgary meant more available units overall.  

Further, to assuage worry over this change unduly impacting upper-class, predominantly single-family detached Calgary neighbourhoods, city officials made a data-driven case that most neighbourhoods with higher-end, well-kept homes were rarely targeted for demolition and increased density.

Still, councillors were concerned the public wouldn’t have an opportunity for feedback on any changes to their community. Because R-CG was the base designation, there would no longer be a land-use redesignation application, which requires a public hearing and public consultation.

Under the new rules, it would go straight to a development permit application, where citizens could only submit their concerns to be considered as part of the development permit package.

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said that decision alone should require a public hearing.

“What I envision that may happen if we move forward with all of these recommendations, including a blanket R-CG is that we will get a lot of public submissions could potentially be an extremely long public hearing that may end up with the result of us not approving it just based on simply public pressure,” he said.

Councillors were told that several steps of this process would likely go through typical public hearing scrutiny, particularly those aspects that would fall under the land-use bylaw renewal.

These were recommendations just to move in that direction.

Chabot said there may be many communities in favour of the change to R-CG, but not all of them. He advocated for separating the recommendations to ensure that some would move forward, (one and four) but not recommendations two or three.

A request to split recommendations, so that council could accept the recommendations for the corporate record, but the city admin not begin immediate work on them, was denied by Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

Coun. Terry Wong said he wanted more time to bring back clear guidance on what was going to happen and how things would be implemented. He said he wasn’t against what was being discussed.

“So again, don’t get me wrong. I’m fully supportive of the report. I understand the crisis we are in.

“But, we owe it to ourselves or to the public, for the due diligence necessary to ensure we prioritize and resource, and implement, those things that truly solve the problem, as opposed to a shotgun and hope we solve them all together.”

‘Very disappointed’: Mayor Jyoti Gondek

Mayor Gondek said she doesn’t understand why council, who would have received regular updates on what was working and what wasn’t, just gave it up.

“We heard loud and clear that we have a housing crisis. We heard it from the community. We’ve heard it from individual Calgarians. We’ve heard it from administration. We’ve heard it around the council horseshoe. We are in a housing crisis,” she said.

“And we just voted down recommendations of a task force.”

Coun. Courtney Walcott, who has been outspoken about the need for more market and non-market housing in Calgary, and has written blog posts about the growing need, said he doesn’t get why his fellow councillors would disregard expert analysis on the city’s housing need.

“It means council made a decision that the challenge of housing affordability and the challenge of dealing with this crisis, it’s too much if it requires us to live beside a townhouse,” he said.

Walcott said that more could still be done. There’s always more to be done.

He said there were a lot of excuses made for why it couldn’t be done, and they’ve seen what happens in other cities where action hasn’t been taken.

“We’ve seen that happen in every other municipality that’s failed to act, but we repeat these mistakes. And then we wait. The crisis will grow,” he said.

“My colleagues will be forced to act, and at that point, they’ll watch how the unaffordability crisis has continued to grow. They’ll watch how we’ve lost our affordable advantage.”