After hearings that involved 162 speakers and deliberations that extended into the weekend, the City of Calgary has finally approved its official housing strategy.
The strategy — called "Home Is Here: The City of Calgary’s Housing Strategy 2023 - 2030" — was passed with a 12-3 vote at a special council meeting on Saturday, and outlines a broad list of over 60 actions to address the issue of housing affordability, which was been trending in the wrong direction.
The list of actions includes 33 recommendations from the City's Housing and Affordability Task Force, 25 actions from the Indigenous Affordable Housing Recommendations, 13 actions carried over from the "Foundations for Home" strategy created in 2016, and several actions proposed within the Housing Accelerator Fund Action Plan. Some of the actions were notably the subject of last-minute amendments.
The list is categorized into six overarching groups.
Make It Easier To Building Housing
The first group includes actions that would make it easier to build housing in Calgary, such as immediately rescinding the Single Detached Special Policy Area in the City's Guide To Local Area Planning and relevant statutory plans, potentially reducing or eliminating minimum requirements in some locations, and advocating to the provincial government to exempt affordable housing projects from public hearings.
Most significantly, the City will effectively end exclusionary zoning and make way for "missing middle" housing by preparing the necessary bylaws to "make the base residential district Residential-Grade Oriented (R-CG) with guidance for single, semi-detached, row and townhouses into a single land use district" and "implement R-CG as the base residential district across Calgary."
This move was the focus of a letter federal Minister of Housing Sean Fraser wrote to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, which said the federal government would not approve Calgary's Housing Accelerator Fund application unless the City ended exclusionary zoning. After the City approved its housing strategy on Saturday, Fraser gave his stamp of approval.
Additionally, the City will facilitate transit-oriented development by implementing Housing-Ground Oriented (H-GO) land use designations in areas where there is a completed Local Area Plan. It will also enable secondary suites and introduce a new incentive program — similar to what British Coumbia is doing.
Make More Land Available
The second group of actions focused on accessibility when it comes to land. This includes allocating $20M per year to the Housing Land Fund to acquire land or provide City-owned land for the creation of non-market housing, identifying City-owned land that can be made shovel-ready, and disposing of City-owned land within close proximity to transit hubs to facilitate transit-oriented development.
The City will also "implement an ongoing pre-qualifying process for providers accessing City-owned land through the Non-Market Housing Land Disposition Policy program" that will "eliminate duplication of time and effort with each round of land disposition, creating a more equitable process for providers."
It will also allocate $50M towards the Downtown Calgary Development Incentive Program, also known as its office conversion incentive program, to serve as "bridge funding" until further funding is received from the provincial and/or federal government. Of that $50M, half will also go towards conversions into post-secondary residential uses.
Meet the Needs of Indigenous People and Equity-Deserving Populations
Actions on this front include allocating $10M per year to fund organizations that provide housing to Indigenous people and equity-deserving populations, investing further in the Community Land Trust, and using the Housing Land Fund to provide land to Indigenous housing providers.
The City will also look to increase the amount of land it provides to Indigenous housing providers through the Non-Market Housing Land Disposition Policy.
"Indigenous people living in Calgary and Equity-Deserving populations are over-represented when it comes to homelessness and the need for deep subsidy housing," the City says. "Expert advice and programs to meet the specific and intersecting needs of people are needed to achieve better housing outcomes."
Facilitate Greater Collaboration
The City believes it needs to convene the housing sector and encourage more collaboration.
One action it says it will take is to convene a group of partners that will work together to create an "advocacy plan" in order to "improve housing that includes supports for organizations, non-profit employees, and those in need of housing," as well as work towards reducing the stigma attached to affordable housing, supportive housing, and homelessness.
The City will also look to create a program that "connects developers and non-profit housing providers to develop partnerships when building new affordable homes, including for residents requiring deep subsidy" and update the One Window initiative that consolidates and aligns various intake processes for individuals looking to access non-market housing.
Increase Investment In Housing Providers
The City says that non-profit housing providers are currently facing a variety of challenges, such as record inflation and increasing costs, and that it has opportunities to reduce the pressure on these providers.
Actions towards this goal will include enacting a bylaw that exempts properties held by non-profit housing providers from the municipal portion of the property tax, while simultaneously advocating to the provincial government for exemptions from the provincial portion of the property tax.
The City will also advocate the Province to "dedicate a portion of the Municipal Reserve for the purpose of establishing land banks in all new communities" and allocate 1% of provincial and federal tax revenues to municipalities for the sole purpose of creating and maintaining affordable housing.
Ensure More People Have A Safe Place To Call Home
"Renters who experience adverse living conditions, which may cause risks to their health and safety, shouldn’t also experience barriers to resolution or even risk the loss of their housing," the City says. "All orders of government have a role to support Calgarians in overcoming these challenges, including improving legislation and awareness on rights and responsibilities."
On its part, the City says it will support existing programming as it relates to affordable housing and homelessness, such as providing seed funding for rent subsidy programs and improving awareness of the rights of tenants.
The City will also advocate for the Province to revise the Residential Tenancies Act to protect against unfounded evictions, provide financial support to those placed in temporary accommodations due to repairs or inadequate conditions, and create a Housing Ombudsperson who can investigate legal complaints of discrimination or mistreatment and serve both landlords and renters.
Most notable, perhaps, is that the City says it will study the possibility of rent control and potentially raise the issue with the Province.
Overall, although the list of actions includes some overlap, the assortment is diverse and addresses the issue of housing affordability from a variety of angles.
Moving forward, City staff will now work to immediately implement actions that do not require budget or Council approval. Actions that require changes to the budget are expected to be considered in November, while actions currently with unknown budgets will be presented in future budgets. Actions that require land use or bylaw changes will return to a public hearing in the coming months.
Staff are expected to report back to the Community Development Committee regarding progress on the housing strategy on an annual basis.
"The Housing Strategy aligns with The City's broader goal to create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous city for all Calgarians," says City Manager David Duckworth. "It reflects the commitment of Administration and Council to improve the quality of life for residents and build a stronger, more resilient Calgary."
"The strategy sets a clear path to create 3,000 new non-market homes and assist the market with an additional 1,000 homes per year," Mayor Gondek said on social media following the approval on Saturday. "This is the most comprehensive strategy addressing the costs and creation of housing in our city's history."