Calgary city council approves housing strategy
Calgary city council members approved a long-awaited housing strategy Saturday, which includes a plan for reducing red tape through blanket rezoning of residential districts to allow for more housing types.
The plan features 80 recommendations and will dictate the city’s housing market from 2024 to 2030.
"The Housing Strategy aligns with the city's broader goal to create a more inclusive, equitable and prosperous city for all Calgarians," said City Manager David Duckworth, in a release Saturday night.
"It reflects the commitment of administration and council to improve the quality of life for residents and build a stronger, more resilient Calgary."
Saturday afternoon, members of the city’s Community Development Committee debated 21 proposed amendments to the strategy.
At a special meeting of council scheduled afterwards, council voted in favour of the recommendations with amendments including:
- Leveraging city-owned sites for emergency housing for families;
- Including incentives for downtown office conversions to support post-secondary residents;
- Investigating business licensing for residential landlords;
- Considering infrastructure investments for increased densities;
- And, adding reporting considerations for planning application processes.
Councillors Dan McLean, Peter Demong and Sean Chu opposed.
"I support a lot of the initiatives in that strategy, but my residents were clear, a lot of Calgarians were clear, that they were vehemently opposed to blanket up-zoning," McLean said Saturday night.
According to city administration, the housing strategy as it is currently written will come with a one-time cost of $57.5 million followed by $27 million in annual costs and $10 million in capital costs per year.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says this plan will help increase Calgary’s market and non-market housing supply to allow for more density, while supporting affordable housing providers by freeing up municipally owned land for development.
"Now we have a strategy that focuses on the full housing spectrum and that allows us to come up with pretty strong actions and tools to allow people to live with dignity whether they need support or not," Gondek said after the vote.
The proposal for blanket rezoning to R-CG in Calgary still requires public engagement and council deliberation before any changes could come into effect to legalize new missing-middle housing zoning designations.
Currently, more than 60 per cent of residential properties in Calgary are zoned to only allow single family homes as a default.
This recommendation now asks to change the default zoning type to RC-G, which would allow for single family homes, but also different housing types.
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.
But not everyone agrees with the idea.
Tony Morris, a member of the Rideau Roxboro Community also disagrees with plans for residential rezoning changes.
“It essentially eliminates resident engagement in the evolution of the communities that are currently zoned RC-1 and that in my mind is something that really shouldn't be entertained by council," he said. "We should always engage those people who are critical stakeholders to the evolution of their community."
“The speculative investors and the developers are going to be plying their trade within those communities for profit and not engaging with those people who they’re going to most directly impact.”
Community Development Committee members debated amendments to the strategy, including everything from clarification and wording changes along with issues related to blanket rezoning and short-term rentals.
The city’s strategy now features approved recommendations including aims to increase the supply of housing, support affordable housing, help the city’s housing subsidiaries, ensure diverse types of housing to meet the needs of equity-deserving populations, and address the affordable housing needs of Calgary’s Indigenous population.
CALGARIANS IN NEED OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING ‘HOPEFUL’ HOUSING STRATEGY WILL WORK
Saturday’s special council meeting follows a two-day public hearing marathon which featured 162 speakers who were each given five-minutes to share their personal and emotional stories related to the city’s housing crisis.
According to the city’s Housing Needs Assessment, one in five Calgary households – more than 84,000 – are struggling right now to afford shelter.
Dianne Rogers had a townhouse, but as a result of difficulties within the complex and renovations, she was unable to afford her house any longer.
“My mortgage went up over $350, my condo fees went up $275 per month and all of the other increases forced me to have to sell my home and become a renter myself,” she said.
“Alberta has no rental cap, this occurred for me in May, however my landlord tells me now the rental will increase by $100 and that’s just what he says now and in five months from now he tells me that it could go up by as much as $500," she said.
Rogers said she then put in an application for affordable housing, but she was shocked at the demand.
“There were 4,500 applications ahead of me. Is that going to help me now within my time frame? No. So what do I do?” I came from being a provincial employee to now this. It’s just mind blowing.”
Other speakers like Sean Tuff, who is a Calgary business owner, also experienced first-hand the difficulty of finding an affordable home while he was a university student in the city 10 years ago.
Fast-forward to today and his family is still unable to afford a home.
“I have three kids and we had to find a place to rent," he said. "Most of the people we applied to said they don’t want kids, other places that are a bit more affordable are just beat down unfortunately,”
“Our neighbours just found out their rent went up $1,000 per month. This is the future of our city, the future we want this city to become is highly impacted by this decision, the future of my kids and my friends and people we care about.”
City administration says that plans for an incentive program to encourage homeowners to develop new secondary suites or bring illegal suites up to code is still being developed. If such a plan were to be approved by council, it would be part of future discussions in the upcoming November budget debate.
Administration also adds that it has 50 pieces of land that could be used for non-market housing, but selling or disposing of that land below market value would require council approval on each land parcel.
OTTAWA OFFERS ‘STRINGS-ATTACHED’ AFFORDABLE HOUSING FUNDS
The vote in favour comes after Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser put federal funding on the line for the City of Calgary this week.
In a letter to the city on Thursday, he said that if Calgary council doesn’t legalize new missing-middle zoning designations, its Housing Accelerators Fund application would not be approved.
The Housing Accelerator Fund allocated $4 billion in federal funding to prompt more homebuilding in Canadian cities until 2026-27.
Calgary’s federal funding for affordable housing hasn’t been confirmed by Ottawa, but Gondek said it would be “in the millions.”
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