Hundreds of people showed up at Calgary City Hall on Thursday to voice their opinions on a proposed affordable housing strategy.
Called “Home is Here,” the new strategy aims to respond to a worsening housing crisis which, according to city figures, sees nearly one in five households unable to afford housing and 110,000 new Residents are expected to move to the city over the next five years. .
“According to some reports, rents have increased by as much as 40 percent, and to afford a single-family home, a household needs an income of more than $150,000,” said Tim Ward, head of housing solutions. accommodation in the city.
“To pay the average rent, a household needs an income of $84,000. »
The proposed strategy aims to increase the supply of housing, support affordable housing providers, help the city’s housing subsidiaries improve service delivery, ensure diverse types of housing to meet the needs of deserving populations. equity and meet the affordable housing needs of Aboriginal people in Calgary. population.
The city’s community development committee began hearing from nearly 150 speakers Thursday as part of its deliberations.
During the committee meeting, a rally was held in front of City Hall in support of the recommendations, with roughly the same number of participants.
A poll commissioned by the city in August showed nine in 10 adult Calgarians agreed housing affordability was a problem.
If the committee approves the strategy, a special council meeting on Saturday will decide whether to adopt the new strategy.
Refugees and the elderly
Speaking to the committee, Calgarians from all walks of life shared stories such as having to live without housing as children, trying to find a place to live while attending university, and having to make sacrifices to keep a roof over their heads. of their heads.
Kelly Ernst, program director for the Center of Newcomers, said people immigrating to Calgary from outside the country are not the cause of the city’s housing affordability problem. But he said that despite having a microcredit program in place to help newcomers find shelter to build a new life, nearly 10 percent of their clients have housing as their main concern.
“Five years ago, no one showed up at the Newcomer Center with a suitcase. We now see this regularly,” Ernst said.
“Even this week, families are arriving with their suitcases at our center saying: ‘I lost my house’ or ‘I arrived and I have no place to stay, what should I do now?’ This is a substantial change from five years ago.
Ernst said rental housing is “absolutely essential” for newcomers.
Jennifer Rapuano-Kremenik of Harvest Hills Cares Calgary said stabilizing housing costs and preventing extraordinary rent increases would provide more stability for other Calgarians who are vulnerable to cost-of-living shocks.
“Earlier this afternoon I received a phone call from a senior whose rent went from $675 to $1,800. That’s how serious this crisis is,” said Rapuano-Kremenik. “This senior uses 80 percent of her income to pay her rent and we have covered her medications for three months.
“We distribute food baskets every month and we are only supposed to help once every six months. That’s why we need to put in place more social services and mental health supports by expanding access to these supports that can help vulnerable populations obtain housing. and address the underlying issues that contribute to homelessness.
Arguments for the housing strategy also came from the business world.
Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said having a city workers can afford to live in is a business-friendly advantage.
“Maintaining our advantage is essential to continuing to build our city and increase our…diversity. We must both increase and diversify our housing stock. People need a place to live,” Yedlin said.
Calgary Economic Development President and CEO Brad Parry said DEC is currently in negotiations with a “large European company” in hopes of attracting it to the city, and that the topic of affordability has been discussed during recent negotiations.
“They heard what was happening. They saw what was happening. We need to make sure we continue to be positioned as one of the most liberal cities in the world,” Parry said.
“As part of this conversation, we also know that this competitive advantage will disappear if we do not have affordable housing and a diverse housing stock for our community.
Rally for housing change
Outside City Hall, dozens of people gathered to urge city councilors to accept the proposed housing strategy.
One mother PKBNEWS spoke with, as she considered moving to a new home, said it would take 70 to 80 percent of her husband’s paycheck to pay the rent.
Members of the official opposition and unions were at the rally to talk about the need for affordable housing for Albertans.
“That’s not true. It’s unconscionable that in a province as wealthy as ours, so many people are struggling right now,” said Janis Irwin, Alberta NDP housing critic.
“This housing crisis is going to require a whole range of solutions. It will not be a single approach that will solve the problem.
Ryan Andersen of the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good acknowledged that elements of the recommended housing strategy, such as removing parking minimums and adopting a common land use designation, have been politicized before Thursday’s meeting.
“What we want from our leaders is to put an end to this politicization and truly meet the needs of Calgarians. They are real and real leadership meets real community needs,” Andersen said.
Federal government pushes for change
The hearings took place on the same day that federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser responded to an inquiry regarding the city’s application for the Housing Acceleration Fund that had previously been denied.
Fraser, a former Calgarian, said those funds were contingent on council adopting the housing strategy, specifically saying “you need to end exclusionary zoning in your city.”
One of the recommendations of the Housing and Affordability Task Force, included in the new housing strategy, is to make default zoning one in which multiple levels of density can be developed, not just one individual house.
Critics called it a “global rezoning” of the city.
“These kinds of attitudes are one of the main reasons we are experiencing a national housing crisis,” Fraser wrote to Mayor Gondek on Thursday. “We will never solve Calgary’s housing crisis if it is not legal to build the homes needed to address the current situation.”
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Fraser’s letter was an indicator that the task force had done “exceptional work.”
“We have some very bright people who have done a lot of research into what a good housing strategy should look like, and ours is an example of that, and the minister has been very positive about his support for the strategy that we have to come. in front of us,” Gondek said.
“And he was also pretty explicit that in order to get the Housing Accelerator Fund funding, we had to approve the strategy in its entirety.”
Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government would remove the GST on the construction of new rental apartment buildings.
It was a political point that Calgary supporters hoped would change.
Looking at all the options
Another recommendation is that the council consider rent control after reviewing what has and hasn’t worked in other jurisdictions.
Ward 11 Council. Kourtney Penner said the sticking point with this recommendation appears to be exploring the idea, not implementing a rent control policy.
“The recommendations are to do research and jurisdictional a**lysis to understand what may or may not work,” Penner said.
“I think we’ve seen case studies from the United States where rent control hasn’t worked, but those are also decades-old policies.
“So what other options are available?” And can we look at a wide range of them? »
Ward 1 County. For Sonya Sharp, there is no doubt that the city is in a housing crisis.
“We know this and we need to act immediately,” Sharp said. “Some of the other things we’re going to talk about are a little more controversial, like blanket rezoning, and that’s OK.
“We need to be able to have these difficult conversations. But having members of the public actually come and talk to us is exactly what we wanted and why we reconsidered being here in June.
In June, the council initially rejected the task force’s recommendations, but voted to reconsider after immediate public backlash to bring the item back this month.
Gondek said there would always be an opportunity for the public to have their voice heard directly in the council chambers on any changes to the land use bylaw.
“A ‘yes’ vote today actually gives the public an opportunity to provide feedback through a public hearing process to say whether they agree with a different land use district or he disagrees,” Gondek said.
“If you do not approve the recommendations today, you are denying the public the opportunity to provide input. »
The committee meeting is expected to run through Friday, ahead of the council meeting scheduled for Saturday.
– with files from David Baxter and Sean Previl of PKBNEWS