Calgary to seek $152M in provincial stimulus money for municipal projects

While Calgary and its skyline continues to grow, a movement is also growing to address the issue of affordable housing in the city.
While Calgary and its skyline continues to grow, a movement is also growing to address the issue of affordable housing in the city. File: Global News

Calgary city council has zeroed in on list of projects to get its share of municipal stimulus money from the province. The finalized list was approved by council Tuesday.

Calgary is eligible for $152.8 million of the $500 million promised by the Alberta government.

Read more: Calgary city council approves break on penalty for owed taxes

The city’s application will include projects like redevelopment and maintenance of affordable housing, revitalizing the Glenbow Museum, upgrades to parks and major roadways, stormwater drainage improvements and flood resiliency, and implementing the 52nd Street BRT from Saddletowne to Seton.

“The most important thing, I should say on both lists for me, is the inclusion of a lot of repair for affordable housing units,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday.

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“It bothers me a lot that we’re the largest tenant landlord in Calgary and sometimes our tenants don’t live in places we should be proud of being a landlord of. And I hope that we’ll be able to fix a lot of that.”

Read more: Edmonton compiles $2B COVID-19 stimulus proposal for province

The director of Calgary Housing is pleased with the $15 million planned for renovation and repair of existing affordable housing units.

“It is a significant boost to help maintain and extend the life cycle of the existing nonmarket housing that we have today,” Sarah Woodgate told Global News Wednesday. “And so this is a very significant proposal that will help directly and very quickly with homes that people live in.”

Read more: New affordable housing project in Ogden going ahead despite some community objection

Woodgate said these funds would go towards work like new roofing, new windows and new envelopes on 30- to 40-year-old city-owned buildings that roughly 1000 Calgarians live in — effectively doubling their lifespans.

“Some of these homes have not had major upgrades since they were purchased,” Woodgate said. “And so this is a really good opportunity to invest in addressing items that have come forward in our asset management program.”

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More than a third of the affordable housing funds will go to “regeneration” of a property in Rundle, “which has been envisioned and intended to add mixed income, new affordable housing to the site,” Woodgate said.

The affordable housing work is expected to create more than 90 jobs.

Read more: Coronavirus: Feds pushed on plan to buy vacant properties for affordable housing

The city tried to include the purchase of “distressed assets” in the application as a way to get more affordable housing stock in the city. Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard rebutted, saying the money is supposed to create jobs, not acquire assets.

“I still think [purchasing distressed assets is] a good idea,” the mayor said. “I think we should be out there looking for apartment buildings and hotels that are willing to sell cheap. It’s just it’s not appropriate for the stimulus amount of money.”
Click to play video 'Affordable housing project to go ahead in Ogden' Affordable housing project to go ahead in Ogden
Affordable housing project to go ahead in Ogden

The municipal stimulus program funds will only address a small fraction of the estimated needs for affordable housing.

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“We think that the demand in 2025 could be about 100,000 households,” Woodgate said Wednesday. “And the 15,000 household [affordable housing strategy target] is to get Calgary to average with regard to the amount of housing, nonmarket, housing stock. So the affordable housing shortfall for low and moderate income families in Calgary is very significant.”

Read more: UCP appoints panel to review affordable housing in Alberta

While other municipalities have a maximum of five projects per request, Calgary will be able to submit for five groups of related projects.

“The province is looking to have fewer and larger projects,” Nenshi said.

“So if, in fact, they want to have fewer projects, we will lose a couple of projects off our list and beef up some of the ones that are on the list.”

The stimulus money is designed to create jobs during the coronvirus pandemic and the projects are to be completed by the end of 2021.

Read more: Stimulus programs in response to COVID-19 could have lingering impact, experts say

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Nenshi called the provincial investment in Calgary a “good news story.”

“We’re very thankful for the money and we going to put it to work right away.”