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Federal minister said Calgary housing funding applications won’t be approved without upcoming changes

The City's Tim Ward confirmed they have federal applications in place right now.

As Calgary digs into its debate on the future of housing in the city, the federal minister responsible for the portfolio said they wouldn’t approve Calgary’s Housing Accelerator Fund application until it makes good on housing strategy commitments.

In a letter sent to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek on Thursday, Canadian Minister of Housing Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser wrote that he appreciated the mayor’s leadership on this issue, and looked forward to discussions happening this week.

Thursday through Saturday Calgary’s Community Development Committee will hear from the public and then debate more than 60 recommendations included in the city’s proposed housing strategy.

Among them is a plan to move towards a citywide upzoning to the R-CG land use, which would allow a variety of housing types that would increase density in communities. Minister Fraser said he was pleased to see this was included, along with investment in affordable housing on city lands and streamlining permit approvals.

“In light of this, I wish to inform you that Calgary’s Housing Accelerator Fund application will not be approved unless you follow through to create the new missing middle zoning designations of H-GO and R-CG, as you laid out in your application,” he said.

When the city laid out its latest housing needs assessment last week, housing solutions manager Tim Ward said they did have housing accelerator applications into the federal government.

“Certainly, there are many things that we are already doing that we hope to use for the funding but certainly there are actions in the strategy that we can connect with the accelerator fund,” he said.

It’s important to note, that even if Calgary approves the currently laid out housing strategy, the potential land use changes wouldn’t occur for months, if at all. They would also require another public hearing and debate at council.

Strategy for dignity

Mayor Gondek, after an affordable housing announcement Wednesday, said in these next three days they will make a decision on these actions.

“Each and every one of those action items is important to ensuring that people have a safe place to live with dignity in our city,” she said.

“We could be the exemplar across Canada, possibly North America if we vote for these, so I would encourage everyone to understand what’s at stake.”

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said that instead of putting forward an ultimatum, the federal government should act on interest rates that are “crushing” prospective Calgary homeowners.

“It’s kind of unfortunate to see them dangle this in front of us the day that we’re going into discussion, so I’ll leave it at that,” Sharp said.

When pressed on whether or not she would be willing to leave federal money on the table to ensure citywide upzoning didn’t pass, Sharp said it was a tough question. Councillors can’t say how much they applied for as that’s still confidential.

“Show us where the money is and give us the money so we can act as a municipality and do what we know we can control in our lane and get more houses to market by reducing red tape,” Coun. Sharp said.

Minister Fraser noted that there would be members of the community, along with elected leaders that would try to dissuade city council from making these changes.

“These kinds of attitudes are a major reason why we are living in a national housing crisis,” he wrote.

“These attitudes help explain why so many Canadians cannot afford the cost of a home in the community where they work, study, and live.”

Fraser closed with a reminder that their application would not be approved without a continued commitment to housing.

“I am eager to be able to approve Calgary’s application, but I will not be able to do so before you make good on these commitments,” the minister wrote.

Calgary will go through two days of public hearings with more than 150 people signed up to speak. There is also an emergency meeting of council scheduled for Saturday where the city council begin to take action on some of these items.