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Calgarians voice opinions on city's housing strategy as council eyes zoning rule changes

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Dozens of Calgarians gathered at city hall on Friday to voice their opinions on the city's housing strategy, with a recommendation around zoning reform remaining the hot topic.

Members of Calgary's Community Development Committee began hearing public feedback the day before, looking closely at a list of about 80 recommendations from administration to try to increase housing supply and offer more affordable options.

Among the 80 recommendations is a proposal for blanket rezoning to R-CG in Calgary, which would change the base residential zoning district to include more housing types.

A letter sent to the city on Thursday from Canada's Minister of Housing, Infrastructures and Communities Sean Fraser said that if Calgary council doesn’t legalize new missing-middle zoning designations, its Housing Accelerators Fund application would not be approved.

Missing-middle housing refers to buildings such as duplexes, row houses and mid-rise apartments, which can increase density. Such rezoning changes would redesignate portions of land to allow those types of buildings.

The funding for affordable housing hasn't been confirmed by Ottawa, but Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said it would be "in the millions."

"I want to make sure that every Calgarian has the opportunity to live with dignity," said Gondek.

"I used to represent Ward 3, and when you visit communities there, you see all types of housing. In Livingston there are a series of row houses, you’ll turn the corner and see townhomes and duplexes and there’s apartments mixed in. That’s how people live. It’s kind of a thing and it’s never been a problem."

But not everyone on council agrees with the idea. Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot says he has received 160 emails from his constituents calling on council to reject this rezoning recommendation.

"The RC-G blanket zoning does not generate new affordable units, it provides housing choice. And housing choices are all well and good, and some people will see more supply leads to lower prices, but evidence suggests otherwise," Chabot said.

"As you heard, you can buy a single family residential home in my community for much less money than you can buy an RC-G in the inner city right now, which is where most of these RC-Gs are developing. So if we're talking about affordability, I'm not sure that this is going to achieve that."

However, developers like Alkarim Devani, president of RNDSqr, says the current rezoning process does not give developers the "predictability of outcome," which can cause costly delays to housing developments.

"One of the things a lot of people don't understand is when a developer has more costs, it automatically ends up on the user end or on the end of the resident," he said.

"So finding ways to make the system more equitable, more fair, more predictable is actually better for all of us, and I think it allows us to focus our conversation on the things that I truly believe people really care about, which is, 'Is this going to be an environment that's safe for me and my family?'"

  Other registered speakers at Friday’s committee meeting like Jean Woeller, who lives in the northwest community of Bowness, say homeowners end up being the losers with rezoning changes.

"I don’t believe it will create a lot of affordability, and I have seen anecdotally in our community a lot of developing pressure to build these sorts of units. The property owners end up being the losers, they end up having three-storey buildings overlooking their yards and they have overshadowing," Woeller said.

"The other point is that in Bowness, a lot of families live in these bungalows because they're affordable, they have amenity space for their kid, and so it's affecting the rental market as well. Those people when, when those buildings are sold, those properties are sold, they're forced to move before a multiplex goes in."

The City of Calgary's Housing Strategy, if approved, would dictate the city's strategy from 2024 to 2030. 

The Calgary public hearings are continuing Friday evening.

The committee will then make a recommendation to be considered by councillors in a special meeting of council scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday. 

If the strategy is passed, it means that actions not requiring further council direction or budget approval will begin. Other actions such as rezoning changes will still require public engagement and council deliberation before they come into effect. 

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