Calgary announces $13.7M for affordable housing initiatives amid surging demand

The old Calgary City Hall is pictured on Monday, May 17, 2021. The Canadian Press

The City of Calgary has teamed up with two community non-profit organizations to create three new initiatives to boost affordable housing as demand for housing continues to grow.

In total, $14.1 million is earmarked for the initiatives with $13.7 million coming from last November’s budget deliberations.

A capital grant program brings in $6 million for urban Indigenous housing organizations and projects, after consultation with Indigenous housing providers, elders, nations and Indigenous Calgarians.

Further details on the program are expected in mid-March, with applications to be received in June.

“There is a disproportionate representation of Indigenous people among those who are unhoused and living in low income situations in our city,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Thursday. “This investment is imperative for a city that is seeking equity and inclusion while we carry forward with our commitment to truth and reconciliation.”

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The City of Calgary will also make three parcels of city-owned land available for non-profit housing providers to build up to 100 units of affordable housing; the locations of the parcels will be made available at the end of February.

Alongside the three sites, $7.5 million will also be set aside for a capital grant program for the organizations building the housing developments, with up to $75,000 being made available for each unit.

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Additionally, the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the United Way and the city are each contributing $200,000 to create a program that will help people pay for expenses, like first month’s rent and damage deposit.

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According to the city, the program is meant to help people overcome “initial affordability barriers” to access housing.

“By providing these wraparound supports in communities, we’re able to make sure that people can stay at home or have the opportunities to get into a home to have a good life,” United Way of Calgary and Area CEO Karen Young said.

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Calgary Homeless Foundation’s CEO said the goal is to get the funding into the hands of those who need it the most.

“We know from our most recent point-in-time count that when we talk to folks who are experiencing homelessness, about 38 per cent said the reason they didn’t have a house is because they didn’t have enough income,” Patricia Jones said.

She added that there are 1,700 people on the foundation’s waiting list for housing.

According to poverty reduction advocate Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC), 81,240 Calgarians are struggling to afford housing, while around 2,700 are experiencing homelessness.

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Meanwhile, subsidized housing represents 2.6 per cent of Calgary’s housing units, below the national average of 3.5 per cent.

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“Any progress is good progress, but we are not moving fast enough at all orders of government in order to truly meet the need,” VCC executive director Meaghon Reid told Global News. “We’re really paying for the fact now that we weren’t projecting or building fast enough for what our projected need would be.

“So steps like this are fantastic to start to get us caught up.”

Demand is also increasing for service providers like Inn from the Cold, which provides housing, supports and shelter for families experiencing crisis and homelessness.

The organization said it has seen a 105 per cent increase in demand over the last year, due to pressures from the pandemic and a higher cost of living.

“During the pandemic, there were a lot of programs, subsidies and grants that became available, and people were accessing,” said Nathaniel Miller, Inn from the Cold’s director of programs. “As those started to dry up, the inflationary pressures and the lack of affordable housing in our community — we could see that perfect storm brewing.”

Inn from the Cold has launched a fundraiser to help support its prevention and diversion program, which helps families stay in their existing homes or secure other permanent housing quickly.

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“These are people who are committed to building better lives for themselves and their children,” Miller said. “As a community, it’s our responsibility to make sure that they have a place that they can call home, that they can afford and they can be sustainable in, so every little bit helps.”

The City of Calgary’s Housing and Affordability Task Force, initiated by Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, is set to deliver its recommendations to city council in June, which are expected to guide an updated affordable housing strategy to be released this fall.

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