Where’s the help? Residents are wondering why the City Council won’t do more to make housing affordable

Christina Mann, 52, has lived with strangers in Calgary in a number of hostels.  She says she wants the City of Calgary to do more to address housing affordability.  (Karina Zapata/CBC - photo credit)

Christina Mann, 52, has lived with strangers in Calgary in a number of hostels. She says she wants the City of Calgary to do more to address housing affordability. (Karina Zapata/CBC – photo credit)

Boom – it’s 2 a.m. and heavy footsteps on the ceiling woke Christina Mann up again. That’s life in a hostel, she says.

Mann worked in book wholesale for many years. But it was precarious work. She was in her 50s, single, and paying $580 a month to rent a basement room in a suburban bungalow with six strangers—the best she could find on the Calgary rental market.

It wasn’t fun. The two bathrooms were busy. The kitchen was a mess.

“If you shove seven strangers into a house that was built for one family, there will be conflict,” Mann said, imagining that time. “I’m so frustrated. I sleep five hours every night and have enough. I’m at the limit.”

Mann had a simple question for a CBC team in Calgary, asking people about their recent rental experiences. Why isn’t Calgary doing more to lower housing costs?

Build more state-subsidized units, reduce zoning rules, allow small garden units — whatever it takes, she said.

“You always find some statute to ban it if someone has a brilliant idea,” Mann said. “We could have tiny houses. We could have more trailer parks. We could rent caravans.”

what the city is doing

In 2022, a record-breaking number of out-of-province and overseas people moved to Calgary. According to the latest report from real estate website, rents for one-bedroom apartments in Calgary rose 22 percent to an average of $1,894 last year.

Any unit under $1,000 is hard to find, and many residents who text CBC Calgary for the Finding Home project report sharp rent increases.

It has forced some to give up their units and more than 4,000 are on a waiting list for a subsidy or subsidized unit with Calgary Housing.

In Canada, all three levels of government play a role in housing construction. The federal government built tens of thousands of low-rent apartments each year before making cuts in the 2000s. They have restored some of the funding, but much of it is geared towards new rentals at market rates.

David Horemans/CBC

David Horemans/CBC

Alberta funds some public housing and has a rent subsidy program. Provinces also have the power to enact rental regulations, such as B. Caps on rent increases (which Alberta does not have).

Local leaders have argued that the big money should come from these other tiers of government as they have deeper pockets.

But in Canada, cities still play a role by making land available and creating zoning rules that limit what can be built in neighborhoods.

So what is the City of Calgary doing?

Last year, the Council decided to set up a task force. Now 15 Calgarians – tenants, housing professionals and city managers – are working on the challenge.

But when CBC Calgary reached out, the task force wasn’t on the details. All they were allowed to share was that they had nine meetings and focused on four themes: market housing, off-market housing, permanent and supportive housing, and homelessness.

“We’ll have something more to share when [recommendations] go to the council,” said Tim Ward, chair of the task force.

They go to the council in June.

Elise Stolte/CBC

Elise Stolte/CBC

For the past five years, the city has tried to help by making lots of additional land available for nonprofit developers.

This has helped create 218 subsidized units to date. Last week, Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced three more lots and grants of up to $7.5 million to create around 100 new units.

Gondek also announced a $600,000 emergency fund for Calgarians who cannot afford first and last month’s rent, as well as a grant program for urban indigenous housing initiatives.

And what about the zoning? Politicians, including Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, blame high house prices on city regulations. When councils only allow single-family homes in an area, this discourages builders from constructing multi-family homes and spreading the cost of the land among more residents.

The council says it wants to create more options for so-called ‘missing middle’ or medium-density, townhouses and small apartment buildings. It approved new zoning last October to allow for this type of housing in certain areas of the city.

But it’s being rebuffed by some homeowners who don’t want to see a change.

The ultimate luxury

Things aren’t moving fast enough for Mann, who was evicted from their shared Northwest home last month. She says the landlord accused her of threatening other tenants, and she couldn’t object because her lease fell under the Innkeepers Act, which gives tenants fewer rights than the Apartment Rentals Act.

She met CBC Calgary at a coffee shop in Ramsay, near where she now lives with a friend. Calm and thoughtful, she spends time watching YouTube videos on #vanlife channels and thinking about other options – garden suite or tiny house, all with privacy.

Most of their belongings are in storage.

“It seems like the ultimate luxury is peace and quiet, a good night’s sleep without being woken up all the time,” Mann said.

“It’s not just me. It’s the society we live in, it’s government policy, it’s developers, it’s rents… Rent control, far and wide, is one thing we need.”

Use of more land for housing

district 8 district. Courtney Walcott has given a number of community speeches about what more Calgary could and should do to make housing more affordable.

During a recent lecture at Mount Royal University, he pointed to the land under the power lines off 50th Avenue west of the MacLeod Trail as an example.

It was reserved for a road link and a bridge over the Elbow River. That probably won’t happen now.

Mike Symington/CBC

Mike Symington/CBC

Calgary needs to step up and make more land available faster, Walcott said in an interview with CBC Calgary. He filed a motion last year to get the city to review the policy. That should be up for debate before the Council again this spring.

Currently, the city can sell up to 10 lots of surplus land for affordable housing every two years.

The contribution of land to a development project makes a big difference, Walcott said.

“Suddenly [the project] is so cheap because the land costs nothing. All you have to do is build the structure and split it among 50 tenants and boom – you have the cheapest house on the block.

During the 2021 census, Statistics Canada found that more than 54,000 renter households in Calgary spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing.

A recent CMHC report found that Alberta will need 20,000 more homes by 2030 just to maintain existing supply ratios, and development insiders say supply isn’t keeping pace. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Walcott says all governments must be involved to resolve this crisis, but the city government cannot ignore what it can do.

It’s a mystery, he said. “We don’t have the capacity to solve this problem alone, but we have the capacity. It’s a frustrating area.”


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