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‘This is amazing’: Calgary approves new housing strategy

Calgary city council approved an amended version of the city’s housing strategy giving them a plan to tackle shelter issues for a wide range of Calgarians today and in the future.

After three days of work, the document was approved 12-3 at the Community Development Committee. It went to a special meeting of council shortly afterward and got final approval by the same vote split.

It comes after a busy two days of public hearings, where the committee heard from more than 160 people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives for their thoughts on the strategy. There was also more than 1,600 pages of submissions to go with the housing document debate.

After a day of hearing overwhelming support for the strategy to start on Thursday, there was a bit of a change on Friday when council heard from those wishing to preserve their single-family neighbourhoods. There were also those who wanted to ensure heritage properties were preserved as communities changed.

During questions of administration, the city’s short-term rental policy came up as an area that wasn’t really addressed in the housing strategy. Research conducted by the University of Calgary is expected to come back to city council in December of this year that will have more insight into that issue.

In the end, councillors went through a host of amendments – most failed – to come up with a final document.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott opened on the amended document, and he said he was proud of the work done this week.

“What we’re offering today to Calgarians is opportunity and a pathway through trauma and a pathway through healing,” he said.

“And again, I know it’s contentious, but this is amazing. Because we’re offering people opportunity.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that we simply don’t have the diversity and the supply of housing needed in the city.

“As a city, we have spent a very long time focused on subsidized housing only, and then we slowly crept into looking at the impacts of homelessness, all while we didn’t really even focus at all on market-based housing,” she said.

“This housing strategy is finally getting us caught up to where we need to be.”

Tim Ward, manager of housing solutions at the City of Calgary said that today marked a turning point for the city.

“Approval of the Housing Strategy will have a profound impact on the lives of Calgarians. Implementation of the strategy will address the housing crisis and support our efforts to build more market and non-market housing,” he said in a prepared release.  

Citywide upzoning

While Coun. Andre Chabot initially attempted to remove a host of items under section 1C of the housing strategy (failed), Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp tried to eliminate the amendment to upzone citywide. Other amendments to take similar action were also attempted and failed.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people on this, overwhelmingly the people I’ve heard from aren’t opposed to density, they aren’t opposed to affordable housing, and they aren’t opposed to the strategy,” said Coun. Sharp.

“They just want their democratic right to have a say in front of their elected official.”

She said she supports density and that this isn’t a debate on the goals of the strategy. It’s a debate about the process.

“We can’t cut the public out of a process. A public hearing ensures the community voice is heard and should not stop us from building more housing,” she said.

Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said she’d understand the amendment being brought forward if it was the only opportunity. She reminded Coun. Sharp and other councillors that there still must be a debate and public hearing on whether the upzoning goes through.

“That takes us out in advance of actually having a public hearing on that specific item,” she said.

“I don’t see how that is more democratic than discussing what we want to see in the future.”

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said would have liked to see better clarity on how the public would still be involved in the planning process.

“I wish the public would have an understanding what that process would have been all about. Because I think that would have alleviated a lot of the concerns here,” he said.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, chair of the committee, said that we needed housing affordability across the city.

“We can’t pretend that (citywide upzoning) is either going to be the silver bullet, but we also can’t pretend that it’s going to be so detrimental to the entire city,” she said.

Mayor Gondek said, in response to a question from Coun. Sharp, said that the federal government made clear that funding would likely be withheld if they didn’t continue with the process they laid out in their housing accelerator application.

Amendments approved

Though 21 amendments were put forward, councillors endorsed only a handful of amendments to the housing strategy.  Those include plans for student housing help and the use of city lands to establish turnkey solutions for those at high risk of experiencing homelessness.

“I’m bringing this amendment forward because I believe it would be possible for us to identify a city site on which to have an emergency housing program that is both temporary and transitional,” Mayor Gondek said about her amendment on establishing rapid housing.  

“It focuses on the needs of families that are in a very specific situation at a point in time.”

Mayor Gondek suggested that this work could be done in coordination with modular or prefabricated home providers to put together a solution quickly.

The mayor went two-for-two on her amendments, with money set aside to help provide bridge funding for project related to student housing.  Earlier this week, the UCalgary Students Union were in favour of the plan but said that they wanted to ensure the whole strategy was approved to provide housing options beyond them being students.

A third amendment that she pitched earlier in the week was actually trumped by the federal government saying they would remove GST on the construction of purpose-built rental properties.

Coun. Sharp also included an amendment that would look at the costs that may end up being borne by homebuilders in Calgary. That amendment also asked for a very clear reporting structure with evaluation metrics of how the housing strategy was performing.

Another amendment to eliminate parking requirements for backyard suites was also approved, along with the allocation of $20 million to buy land or provide existing land for the creation of non-market and mixed-market housing and advocate for matching funds from other orders of government.

Council will now begin implementing parts of the strategy that do not require further budget council approval. Budget-related items will be prepared for the November 2023 budget adjustments.

Items like the citywide upzoning will require further bylaw work and will still require a public hearing and approval at a full meeting of Calgary city council.

Home is Here City of Calgar… by Darren Krause