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Affordability top of mind ahead of Calgary’s housing strategy debate

Click to play video: 'Affordable housing need top of mind ahead of Calgary’s housing strategy debate'
Affordable housing need top of mind ahead of Calgary’s housing strategy debate
WATCH: Housing in Calgary is set to be a top priority this week at city hall with the unveiling of a strategy to address housing affordability and the need for non-market supportive housing. Adam MacVicar reports. – Sep 13, 2023

Affordable housing providers in Calgary hope for action as city council prepares to debate its much-anticipated revamped housing strategy, aimed at addressing both housing affordability and the need for more non-market affordable housing.

A public hearing for ‘Home is Here – The City of Calgary’s Housing Strategy 2024-2030‘ is scheduled to begin at the city’s Community Development committee Thursday.

The strategy includes about 80 recommendations and action items aimed at responding to pressures in Calgary’s housing market, the diversity of the city’s housing supply, and a growing need for more affordable housing units.

“When we think about housing affordability, we think about the dynamics of the housing market. Is there housing choice available and is there housing available for people at a price they can afford?” said City of Calgary housing solutions manager Tim Ward.

“When we start to think about affordable housing, that’s when we think about housing that is non-market, at prices that people on lower-to-moderate incomes can afford and sometimes might have some level of government subsidy.”

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The need for more non-market housing was highlighted during a grand opening for a new affordable housing complex in Seton, made up of 45 non-market townhouse units.

The Norris House complex, owned and operated by non-profit affordable housing provider HomeSpace, was built in collaboration with all three levels of government and funding contributions from Resolve, a $75-million initiative from local homebuilders to develop more affordable housing.

The complex is nearly full and expected to be fully occupied within weeks through social services provider Closer to Home.

“One of the needs we didn’t expect was around families in particular when it comes to exiting homelessness,” HomeSpace CEO Bernadette Majdell said. “What we’re seeing now with the demand for affordable housing in this city, that families are one of the most affected groups.

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According to city data, there are 84,600 households in Calgary struggling to afford housing, with wait lists for social housing up 18 per cent this year.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the situation in Calgary can only be described as “a housing crisis.”

“Don’t let people tell you that these are made up terms,” Gondek said. “There are 235 families in this city right now that don’t have a home. They are sitting on buses, they are sitting on trains, they’re sitting in bus shelters trying to stay alive and be okay. That is not acceptable. That is absolutely a crisis.”

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Patricia Jones with the Calgary Homeless Foundation said the organization’s list for affordable housing has stretched to around 1,900 people, with those requiring higher acute care for mental health and addictions falling further down the list.

“I hope council and the City of Calgary understand that, if we don’t make changes, there are many people, some of whom they may know, will not have a home,” Jones told reporters.

The housing strategy includes several recommendations around affordable housing including annual investments to build non-market housing and using city-owned land for affordable housing projects, as well as making land available for local non-profit housing providers.

The strategy sets an annual target to build 3,000 new affordable housing units in Calgary, which is close to the number of non-market units built in the city since 2016.

“Currently, the number is between 300 and 500 units produced every year. So we would need to see a significant step up,” Ward said. “There are actions in the strategy that would support the city playing its part in that, but to get there we’d need the support of the provincial and federal governments.”

Some of the recommendations that require provincial assistance include tax breaks on properties run by non-profit affordable housing providers among other legislative changes.

During an announcement of a funding boost to repair and upgrade provincially-owned affordable housing units, Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said almost all the recommendations involving the province are up for discussion.

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“Almost everything is on the table. I will say, one thing that is not is rent control… the Government of Alberta will not be going down the path of rent control because it will make it worse for the people we’re trying to help,” Nixon said. “Certainly any solutions that will help us tackle this problem in Alberta, we will openly look at.”

However, some supporters of the strategy have concerns that it could go further to address the scope of the housing crisis.

Chaz Smith with Be The Change YYC said more immediate measures are needed as he is seeing more people entering homelessness due to affordability concerns, including seniors seeking emergency shelter.

“The city said one in five households can’t afford their housing, that’s many hundreds of thousands of folks in need right now,” Smith said.  “We need to address that as well and prevent them from being unhoused while we build these new types of housing.”

If the strategy is approved at committee this week, it will go to a special meeting of council on Saturday for a final debate and decision.

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