The City of Calgary has developed a concept for its new Housing Land Fund, which will allow the City to acquire land and make it available for affordable housing development, according to City briefings set to be presented to the Community Development Committee on Wednesday.

The City describes the Housing Land Fund as having two main purposes:

  • To free up existing surplus City-owned sites for housing development opportunities by removing barriers to development; and
  • To provide the necessary resources to enable the City to act quickly on acquisition opportunities as well as strategically pursue land for non- and mixed-market housing development.
When considering potential acquisitions, the City says it will focus on under-served communities when it comes to non-market and mixed-market housing, properties that have been identified for non-market housing in a City-led planning process, land that is well-served by rapid transit, and land adjacent to existing City-owned land that could facilitate land assemblies.

The City says it will consider acquisition opportunities both on its own and when opportunities are brought to it by other government agencies or even private landowners. Both vacant land and land with existing structures will be considered.

"The Fund will enable the City to be both strategic and opportunistic," one briefing document states. "All Calgary communities need housing that is affordable. The Fund will ensure that lands will be acquired in areas that represent a high value (through social and economic indicators) and strategic opportunity [....] To provide additional land opportunities, the City must be proactive and consider not only land within its existing portfolio, but also the purchase of land at market or below-market rates with supportive sellers. Non- and mixed-market housing is needed across Calgary, and as such all communities and land opportunities will be considered in the use of the Fund."

Another component of the Housing Land Fund will be "improving land and/or existing structures to reduce risks and costs for future development," the briefing states. Improvements can include completing servicing, remediating land, upgrading utilities, demolishing existing structures, completing subdivisions, or completing land use amendments.

The goal of this improvement, the briefing notes, is to prepare these sites for the development of non-market and mixed-market housing. Oftentimes, these actions need to be undertaken by the developer and can take significant amounts of time, adding costs and potentially reducing the viability of developments.

Lastly, the Housing Land Fund will make those lands available for development, whether it be by selling it to a City subsidiary, developing the housing through the Calgary Housing Company, selling the land outright with the mandate of building affordable housing, or leasing the land to a non-profit, Indigenous, or private sector developer.

The Housing Land Fund

The Housing Land Fund will be owned and administered by the City's Housing Solutions department, which will evaluate the acquisition opportunities, ensure funds are used responsibly, and work with other City departments. Housing Solutions is currently managed by Tim Ward.

"The Housing Land Fund is a funding source, it is not a new disposition program or external funding mechanism," the briefing states. "Any assets acquired and/or improvements made to assets by use of the Housing Land Fund will be managed, administered, and maintained in accordance with the City’s stewardship practices and policies, and will be disposed of, leased, or transferred at below-market value in accordance with the City's non-market housing related programs and policies."

The Fund's budget is a line item under the City's affordable housing services and a base operating budget of $20M was earmarked as part of the Home Is Here housing strategy approved in the fall. Proceeds from the sale of the assets acquired via the Housing Land Fund will be returned to the Fund as a surplus, in addition to future annual budget allocations. The City says it will review the fund at least every two years.

The Housing Land Fund has broad similarities to the new BC Builds program unveiled by the British Columbia provincial government in February. The structure of that program entails the Province identifying under-utilized pieces of land, matching that land with non-profit, Indigenous, or private sector developers, and providing construction financing for the development of affordable housing.

Shortly after BC announced the program, the Government of Canada said it would match the Province's commitment of $2B in financing, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adding that he'd love to see other jurisdictions in Canada adopt a similar program.