As the City of Calgary continues deliberations regarding its official housing strategy, the pressure has been taken to another level as the City's choices could determine whether it receives federal funding.
On Thursday, federal Minister of Housing Sean Fraser sent a letter to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek regarding the City's application for funding through CMHC's Housing Accelerator Fund.
Fraser said that he was aware that Calgary City Council will be considering actions to:
- End exclusionary zoning city-wide by legalizing much needed missing middle housing, such as four-unit multi-plexes, through new zoning designations creating new land-use districts;
- Invest in affordable housing on public lands, within walking distance of transit; and
- Streamline building permit approvals to increase the speed at which housing gets built in Calgary.
Fraser said that he was pleased that those actions were on the agenda, but stressed that Calgary's Housing Accelerator Fund application will not be approved unless the first action — ending exclusionary zoning — is approved.
"I wish to inform you that Calgary’s Housing Accelerator Fund application will not be approved unless you follow through to create the new missing middle zoning designations of H-GO and R-CG, as you laid out in your application," wrote Fraser.
As if the message was not clear enough, Fraser immediately repeated the message.
"Otherwise said, in order to receive a positive decision from me on your application, you must end exclusionary zoning in your city."
Fraser's letter comes on the same day that Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre announced details about his own housing plan, a key component of which entails withholding funding from cities that fail to meet housing targets (and providing bonus funding for those that do).
Poilievre has been critical of the Housing Accelerator Fund, mockingly calling it the "Housing Decelerator Fund" because it was conceptualized in 2021 but did not disperse any funding until this week, when $74M was provided to London, Ontario.
For Calgary, although its housing crisis has not been as high-profile as those of Toronto and Vancouver, affordability is trending in the wrong direction and housing supply could follow suit if no action is taken — largely due to Alberta seeing record amounts of immigration and population growth.
In response to this, the City of Calgary formed a 15-member Housing and Affordability Task Force last year, which has brought forth a series of recommendations that Council began formally considering on Thursday and will continue to deliberate on Friday. The marathon will then end with a special Council meeting tomorrow — Saturday — for a decision.
Although Fraser has now upped the tension a bit, he stressed in his letter that he wants what's best for Calgary.
"The City of Calgary was my home for five years," he wrote, alluding to his time as an Associate Lawyer at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and later Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP. "It is the place that gave me my professional start, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the city that gave so much to me. I am committed to helping you build more homes so that a generation of young people will experience the same benefits that Calgary provided to my family."