Calgary city council reverses housing affordability decision

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Calgary city council reconsiders affordability recommendations
WATCH: After initially voting down recommendations from the city’s Housing and Affordability Task Force, council has had a change of heart. As Tracy Nagai reports, following public outcry council has voted to reconsider the recommendations – Jun 7, 2023

The day after the city’s housing and affordability task force recommendations were voted down, Calgary city council had a change of heart and voted in favour of them, with some changes.

Late Tuesday, councillors Dan McLean, Andre Chabot, Richard Pootmans, Jennifer Wyness, Terry Wong, Sonya Sharp, Peter Demong and Sean Chu voted against the recommendations, citing concerns about items like making a base residential land use district common across the city, and how the decision-making process on the recommendations would play out.

“The process was not clear yesterday,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

Pootmans said he did some reflecting on the vote that evening and then reached out to his colleagues.

“It occurred to me after I went home, I was ashamed. The city has an affordable housing issue and there’s a housing problem as well. None of this was effectively addressed by what we did yesterday,” he told reporters. “In fact, it was not at all addressed.”

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The year-old task force’s recommendations focused on three outcomes: increasing and diversifying the housing supply in Calgary, strengthening the ties within the housing sector and improving living conditions for people in rental housing.

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Wednesday afternoon, Coun. Pootmans asked his colleagues to resuscitate the defeated motion through a reconsideration vote.

A reconsideration vote can only be brought forward by a member of council who originally voted against the defeated motion. A simple majority vote is required to bring that motion back for a fresh round of debate, including amendments, and then a final vote.

Ten councillors around the horseshoe voted to reconsider the previous day’s vote – with only Chabot, McLean, Wyness, Demong and Chu in opposition – successfully resurrecting the defeated motion.

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Pootmans said he felt council wasn’t afforded the time to better absorb how adopting the recommendations would be moved through the city’s decision-making process, a process that involves councillors and citizens at committee and council meetings.

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Wednesday afternoon, council added another decision-making layer for integrating the task force recommendations: a September committee meeting. Previously, the decision would only come to council meeting.

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“We have now asked our administration, when they come with an update to the Corporate Housing Affordability Strategy, that they consider those recommendations and they identify to committee in September which recommendations have been put into the corporate strategy,” Gondek said.

Committee decisions would then come to council meetings.

And if, for example, the community development committee endorsed the idea of making a citywide residential land use district, that would start a year-long process towards a change in the Land Use Bylaw – a process that includes public hearings and a council decision.

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Council voted 14-1 in favour of the task force’s recommendations and Pootmans’ wording of the motion. Only Ward 4 Coun. Chu opposed it.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott had concerns about whether all 33 actions in the task force recommendations would be “cherry picked” for change or removal through the newly-approved process.

“I was worried about it being cherry picked yesterday. I know people want to cherry pick it,” Walcott said. “I know that a lot of the conversations will be about values and what it is that we think are the right values to solving the crisis.”

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Councillors said they received abundant feedback following the original vote, both online and in direct communications with their offices.

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Some of the comments included criticism of the apparent enthusiasm to sign a new event centre deal with a unanimous vote, and the failed vote for affordability and housing.

“I think a lot of the commentary around the optics of what we were willing to do with regards to public engagement on the events centre and what we’re willing to do with public engagement on the Housing and Affordability Task Force is apt criticism that this council did deserve yesterday – still deserves today,” Walcott said.

“These are the values that we put forward.”

“Sometimes disappointment can bring out the best in people and I think it did yesterday,” Gondek said. “I don’t think anyone on council was happy yesterday. I think all of us were incredibly disappointed in the result we got and we banded together and found a way forward.”

In his third non-consecutive term on council, Pootmans said there’s a balance to be found in conversations about the evolution of the city’s neighbourhoods.

“We need to learn more about how we can progress as a city. And right now we’re taking baby steps. This is the first of the baby steps.”

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