Calgary, Edmonton leaders raise concerns about Bill 20 despite new housing provisions

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s Bill 20 includes bold steps to address housing crisis'
Alberta’s Bill 20 includes bold steps to address housing crisis
More details have been released about the Municipal Affairs Amendment Act or Bill 20. As Meghan Cobb reports, the bill will also have an impact on housing development in Alberta. – May 8, 2024

Municipal leaders in Calgary and Edmonton are raising concerns about Bill 20 despite new affordable housing provisions.

On Wednesday, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver announced several provisions in Bill 20 that aim to accelerate affordable housing construction across the province.

This includes amending the Municipal Government Act to exempt all non-profit, subsidized affordable housing units from municipal, education and provincial taxes.

The province will also amend the MGA to require municipalities to offer digital options for public hearings about planning and development, which he says will encourage more public participation in the planning and development process locally. This amendment will also restrict the ability to hold extra public hearings that are not required by legislation.

Lastly, McIver said the MGA will be amended to limit the ability of municipalities to require non-statutory studies for building and development, which he said are costly and delay the building of affordable housing.

Story continues below advertisement

“These amendments we are proposing will help municipalities and their residents find the right balance,” McIver told reporters on Wednesday morning.

Alberta Municipalities said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that the changes to Bill 20 will help accelerate affordable housing projects but they aren’t enough to address the affordable housing crisis.

“With input from municipal representatives, the provincial government could have done more and made further improvements,” the organization said.

Janis Irwin, Opposition NDP housing critic, said the affordable housing provisions are not going to help Albertans. She urged the United Conservative government to repeal Bill 20 and Bill 18, which prohibits municipalities from entering into agreements with the federal government without prior approval.

“The UCP have prioritized centralizing power over addressing the housing crisis, the healthcare crisis, and ensuring Albertans can afford to pay their bills,” Irwin said in a statement.

“These pieces of legislation consolidate power in the hands of Danielle Smith and her cabinet. These bills do nothing to fortify trust with municipalities who are working hard to address the housing crisis.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said many of the provisions McIver announced are already in place. Calgary already exempts non-profit affordable housing units from municipal property taxes, and Calgary already allows residents to participate in public hearings via telephone or Microsoft Teams.

Story continues below advertisement

“I mean, there’s nothing new in this announcement. So for anybody that was looking for something new or special, it’s not there. This is old news,” she told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

Edmonton city councillor Anne Stevenson is worried about the impacts of these bills – the financial impacts and consequences.

“My mind really goes to the federal restrictions on some of the funding that we could receive. As a city, we’ve been able to deliver hundreds of units of desperately needed affordable and permanent supportive and housing due to direct funding relationships with the federal government. Anything that puts that at risk I think is very concerning.

“In terms of some of the opportunities around tax deferral for residential development, you know, certainly something we could explore, I think that could have some positive benefits. But again, I haven’t had much time to look at these and really explore them in full.”

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi wants the province to hit pause on its proposed bills that impact municipalities.

“We really urge the province of Alberta to put a stop on these two pieces of legislation, consult with municipalities, get our input, consult with other stakeholders, like the universities, and then bring back something that may work for everyone. I think it could be a win-win situation for everyone if there’s a little pause on it and a thoughtful approach to engagement and getting input.”

Story continues below advertisement

Province outlines changes to city charters

McIver also announced that the province is proposing updates to city charters in Calgary and Edmonton to “remove potential barriers to housing development,” including removing inclusionary housing provisions. Inclusionary housing provisions enabled Calgary and Edmonton to require developers to provide housing units, land or money that could be used to increase non-market housing.

“As we’ve heard from the development community, inclusionary housing could have a chilling effect on their ability and their willingness to invest in cities to build housing,” he said.

But Irwin said the proposed changes suggest the Alberta government cares more about private, for-profit deals than Albertans.

“The UCP will allow developers to call the shots, which could increase prices for non-subsidized units. These changes won’t prioritize what communities need, which is affordable housing,” she said.

“We need collaboration to solve problems, and Danielle Smith’s desire to control everything, everywhere, all at once will delay progress on making sure every Albertan has a roof over their head.”

Story continues below advertisement

Gondek said the city has never used the inclusionary housing provision in the charter, adding the city will find another way to provide incentives for developers to build affordable housing.

“That’s clearly spelled out in our housing strategy,” she said.

The city charter updates will also allow developers to appeal off-site levies to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal, but McIver didn’t provide any details about the process on Wednesday.

“The biggest thing that we talked to the minister was about the appeal process. So are people going to be able to appeal the entire bylaw, the off-site levy bylaw, or just portions of it? You need to have parameters around it, and I heard nothing about that today,” Gondek said.

McIver also said the province will remove Calgary’s and Edmonton’s ability to create bylaws related to building codes and energy efficiency standards, saying the province has been working to update provincial codes to “best fit the needs of Albertans.”

— with files from Emily Mertz, Global News.

Sponsored content