Guest Blog: Will provincial changes really help Calgary’s housing affordability?

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As part of our ongoing housing affordability series, Calgary’s Future is sharing community perspectives on Calgary’s housing affordability crisis. Housing affordability impacts everyone. That’s why we’re sharing these stories – to show our representatives that we will not accept inaction or misdirection on housing affordability. 

Today’s entry is authored by Hazen ‘Bis’ Ellwood, a local housing affordability activist. Hazen shares her take on three changes the Alberta Government is proposing to make to Calgary’s City Charter – changes the Alberta Government claims will help address the housing affordability crisis in Calgary.



A poison pill cloaked in housing crisis rhetoric


In December the provincial government proposed 3 changes to the City Charters of Calgary and Edmonton, claiming to "limit potential housing costs". Capitalizing on this moment, when millions of Albertans are struggling to make ends meet, the government of Alberta is stretching the language of housing action to fill their buddies' pockets and finger-trap our cities into deficits and delays.

Don't let their barely plausible language of “pulling out all the stops to meet this challenge” deceive you. The reality is, this masquerade — tinkering with the City’s negotiation in private infrastructure funding, abolishing the easiest method of constructing affordable housing, and reopening the door to higher electricity bills — does zilch to make housing more affordable. All it really does is bully local governments into making housing more lucrative for developers.


Read on to learn more about the proposed changes and how they’ll impact Calgarians.


Change #1: Off-site Levies


Off-site levies allow the City to tax developers for the expected infrastructure burden their developments will cause. Ensuring, as volume increases in the community, Calgarians have reliable access to quality transportation, electricity, water—sometimes funding for schools and libraries.

In 2022, off-site levies paid for $165 million of infrastructure, a prohibitively low yearly amount compared to what’s needed to address housing demand. Under the proposal, developers can appeal levies they believe are against their "proportional benefit"—meaning that construction halts until the City takes an even worse deal.

Lowering developer costs leads to cheaper housing, they say — theoretically, possibly — but realistically? In this extraordinary period of housing scarcity, every supply delay further fuels the sellers’ market inferno. The government of Alberta knows this, Calgary knows this, developers know this. Only those entitled enough to appeal the City's levy stand to gain, while housing skyrockets on, and balancing our budget becomes impossible. 

While the use of off-site levies is a controversial among advocates, it’s unquestionable that their intent is to pay for growth without footing the bill to property taxpayers. Cutting off this vital stream of income for the City at this moment is just a petty political prank, forcing us into accelerate property taxes, or snub essential services for Calgarians.


Change #2: Inclusionary Zoning


This tone-deafness is laid especially bare in the proposal to repeal inclusionary zoning. Referring to a provision that would require housing providers to subsidize moderate to low-income affordability on a modest percentage of units.

Ric McIver villainously asserts that Alberta’s major cities “have never used the inclusionary housing provision," ignoring the fact that it has long been a top policy request of urban sociologists and advocates. Inclusionary zoning is the most cost-effective method of increasing affordable housing stock, requiring subsidies to only a proportion of units instead of all of them. This also compels competitive rental markets and enables residents who are in-need to gently integrate into communities with established economies.

How can the government of Alberta claim this change has a positive effect on housing affordability when it literally prohibits affordable housing? Abolishing the City’s jurisdiction on inclusionary zoning, via developer fees and otherwise, will have catastrophic outcomes for the incremental non-market solutions we need.


Change #3: Building Code


The proposal also removes Calgary's authority to write superior requirements on energy efficiency and heat retention atop the provincial building code. Affordability is about getting the same quality for a fairer price, not sneaking Albertans into a home that is less capable of keeping them warm through the winter. Any dollar saved by loosening energy efficiency is a dollar gained by the greediest developers and electricity providers. Selling Albertans down the river isn’t a win for affordability, it’s just aristocratic climate denialism.

The proposition not only undermines Calgary's climate and housing resilience but sets a bad precedent for our economic independence as well. Thousands of working-class families will learn of the long-term psychological trauma insurmountable debt brings while we wait for provincial approval on little tweaks to allowable fundraising or building forms.


What can we do?


Ending homelessness is easy, as Edmonton Councillor Andrew Knack pointed out earlier this year. Just a fraction of the province's $11 billion surplus would "not only end homelessness in Edmonton, it would end it across Alberta". The truth is, housing affordability isn't difficult to understand. Housing is a simple matter of political will, and the government of Alberta has made it clear that they don't have any.

Our provincial government has hoarded enough capital to fund countless quality-of-life improvements for Calgarians and Albertans everywhere. Yet they continue to pinch pennies, micromanage city budgets, and undermine our local governance. We must demand real housing action now, and let this out-of-touch government know that their abusive behaviour is unacceptable.

Ready to help protect the City of Calgary’s affordable housing initiatives from provincial interference? Email your City Councillor and tell them to oppose the province's changes to Calgary’s City Charter!


Email your City Councillor now!

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