Alberta needs an additional 20,000 homes to remain affordable, but how do we get there?

A number of new homes are being built in the southwestern community of Shaganappi.  (Bryan Labby/CBC - photo credit)

A number of new homes are being built in the southwestern community of Shaganappi. (Bryan Labby/CBC – photo credit)

For builders, developers and Calgarians looking for more affordable housing, January 17 could potentially be remembered as a milestone in how the city plans and manages new growth in old neighborhoods.

CivicWorks, an urban planning and planning consultancy, unveiled the first-ever application as part of the city’s new Housing Grade Oriented (H-GO) district, a new zoning tool that could provide more options for “missing mid-range housing.”

The missing center refers to a range of housing options that are located between single-family houses and apartment buildings. These include duplex, townhouses, townhouses, stacked townhouses, courtyard townhouses and multiplexes.

The new infill buildings are designed to be compatible with existing single-family homes in mostly urban, walkable communities that are close to transit and other amenities.

The hearing lasted only 22 minutes.

Arlux Construction Ltd. was given the go-ahead to demolish the existing single-family home on 12th Avenue SW in Shaganappi to make way for the community’s first courtyard-style multi-unit infill.



The project comprises two townhouse-style buildings with a total of eight residential units. The community association supported the project.

But while the hearing itself was brief, it took 257 days from the filing of the application to approval. (Part of this delay was related to a change in the original application for the new H-GO district.)

The lengthy permitting process is just one of the hurdles homebuilders face, long with labor and material shortages, rising interest rates, and neighborhood opposition.

Some projects are also rejected when residents feel they’re a poor fit — pushing more people into decades-old communities — changing everything from the views to traffic to parking.

And such tensions — between developers, City Hall and local residents — are unlikely to ease anytime soon.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Alberta will need 20,000 more housing units beyond current construction rates by 2030 to maintain affordability.

“Developers need to become more productive and fully exploit land tenure to build more homes, while governments need to make regulatory systems faster and more efficient,” the report says.

Obstacles to finding housing

Shameer Gaidhar is an inner city builder and Chair of the Calgary Inner City Builders Association.

Gaidhar says some of his projects can take nearly two years to get approved.

“With a redevelopment, it’s 22 months before you buy it, turn it around and someone moves in,” Gaidhar said of a two-story duplex he’s building in the southwestern community of Altadore.

Bryan Labby/CBC

Bryan Labby/CBC

He said he had properties sitting vacant for six months while waiting for planning permission.

Alkarim Devani is another inner-city developer who says there needs to be an ideological shift among residents, local politicians and city bureaucrats to allow for more development.

Devani recalls a two-year permitting process for an eight-unit development.

Bryan Labby/CBC

Bryan Labby/CBC

“There’s this broken system,” said the co-founder of development company RNDSQR.

“I could have unlocked 200 units in an apartment building, and why would anyone spend two years building 8 units?”

He says existing neighborhoods are key to unlocking a variety of housing opportunities for families, multigenerational families and seniors.

“If we want to prioritize diversity, inclusion and accessibility within our communities and embark on a more sustainable path to development, then this is one of the easiest ways to do so at a low-density scale that is context-sensitive and that can have massive impacts on access have to these communities.

Bryan Labby/CBC

Bryan Labby/CBC

“Well, if I could choose one thing, it would be it [municipal] Leadership that is open and rushes forward and does not face the conflict.

Approval deadlines are among the best

The city’s director general for planning and development services says Calgary ranks fifth among major cities for fastest building permit deadlines.

Stuart Dalgleish refers to a study commissioned by the Canadian Homebuilders Association, which found that the average time from application submission to approval is 5.4 months.

Taking into account the planning approval process and the municipal developer fees, the city takes third place overall.

Bryan Labby/CBC

Bryan Labby/CBC

Dalgleish says he wants to hear from builders facing delays.

“If you ever have an application with us where you have concerns about the procedure or timing, please give us a call and let us know,” he said.

Where to build and why

Housing pressure is growing. Nearly 60,000 people moved to the province last summer, the highest quarterly increase in 40 years.

The city is aiming for a 50:50 split where new homes are built. Half of them in brand new communities and half in existing neighborhoods. At the moment, according to Dalgleish, the majority favors new communities by a 60/40 split.

Bryan Labby/CBC

Bryan Labby/CBC

A professor of planning at the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape says the 50-50 split must be achieved for a number of reasons, including affordability.

“We need to be able to revisit the places that we have and some of the neighborhoods that we’ve built since the ’50s and ’60s and really come back and retrofit a lot of those places,” Sasha Tsenkova said.

She said planners and builders need to take advantage of unused land and the abundance of services in existing neighborhoods to ramp up development. She said the infrastructure is already in place, including roads, utilities, schools and other facilities.

Maybe in my backyard?

The inner-city community of Inglewood faces ongoing pressure for bigger and taller building projects.

RNDSQR proposed a 12-story building at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 12th Street SE. Devani confirms the project has been shelved in part due to rising interest rates and rising costs.

Bryan Labby/CBC

Bryan Labby/CBC

Almost 30,000 people signed a petition against the project. The community association and local business development area also opposed it, saying it would not be to scale with the existing streetscape.

“There’s a lot of awkward debate about this because we fit into an older neighborhood with a lot of low-rise or even 100-year-old historic homes,” said Bruce MacDonnell, planning director for the Inglewood Community Association.

“We get a lot of conflicts about what the right height should be.”

According to MacDonnell, the community isn’t opposed to new developments, but it’s the scope of some projects that make them resentful.

On the horizon is a large development called Brewery Rail Lands, which could see up to 1,750 residential units in six- to 20-story buildings.

H-GO is a start, but proponents say more is needed

While these larger projects may face greater challenges in terms of permitting, community opposition, and financing, it’s the smaller projects, such as the lack of mid-sized apartments, that could potentially unlock more supply and improve affordability for buyers and renters.

David White, a director at CivicWorks, recalls his company’s involvement in the H-GO district’s first permit.

“Unification of the Articles of Incorporation will result in essential approvals being achieved in a more streamlined, efficient and understandable manner.”

“And I think you’re going to see more of these projects being built without delay, possibly with fewer stimuli because they’re easier to understand and predict. And that’s going to be an absolutely good thing for getting more missing middle housing and lots of inner-city communities.”

A hurdle for housing that might be easier for developers to overcome.

Bryan Labby is a corporate reporter at CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @CBCBryan.


Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button