Oct. 14, 2016 | Barb Livingstone
Charting a new courseHomebuilding officials warn proposed governmental power shift could impact homebuyers in a big way
Before Calgarians step into a voting booth to elect a new city council a year from now, there could be a whole new ball game of city governance over everything from land assessments to affordable housing and even new taxing powers.
New city charters originally proposed in 2014, and only recently made available for public feedback, are intended to give new powers and responsibilities to Alberta's two largest municipalities. They may affect Calgarians on everything from residential speed limits and fines, environmental protection, integration of land-use and transportation strategies and investment to civic administrative efficiencies that stretch from council roles to establishment of bylaw tribunals.
And there will almost certainly be changes that impact the homebuilding industry, and ultimately homebuyers.
In the charter overview package, the cities have proposed changes on supplementary property assessments on land that goes from farmland to another, requiring developers to contribute to new affordable housing while also allowing tax exemptions for affordable housing providers and civic regulation of land-use bylaws and processes related to decisions on development permits, among other changes.
"Especially in economic hard times, it is important to not increase the burden on first-time homebuyers and seniors on fixed incomes, with increased costs."
Canadian Home Builders Association – Alberta external relations manager T.J. Keil said his organization's main concern is whether home affordability and choice are going to be affected by the proposed charters, as well as further changes expected in the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
And while feedback on the first phase of the charters is important, the crucial piece is the fiscal framework that will be developed around any changes, he said.
"Especially in economic hard times, it is important to not increase the burden on first-time homebuyers and seniors on fixed incomes, with increased costs," said Keil, whose organization, which represents more than 1,500 members in the province, and was one of the groups invited to overview the proposed charters earlier this month.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has stressed that while the new charter proposals embrace more than just revenue issues, new taxing powers for Alberta's two largest cities have to be addressed.
For the homebuilding industry, however, that raises the fears of additional levies — on top of the ones it already pays, the cost of which would almost certainly be passed onto new homebuyers.
Homebuilding officials are also concerned the three-and-a-half years it has spent collaborating with the province on changes to the MGA — changes that are expected to also come into effect next fall — not go unheeded.
"The province through the (Municipal Affairs) ministry and administration, has done a good job involving everyone in what has been a very transparent process," said CHBA-UDI Calgary Region Association CEO Guy Huntingford, whose newly amalgamated organization includes nearly 700 member companies.
"Do we like everything? No. But at least we have been at the table. With collaboration, at least we feel the process has been reasonable and fair."
Huntingford added that has not been the case with the charter consultations.
"There has been minimal discussion, and what there has been has been in-camera. Our concern is, 'what's the rush?'"
Huntingford said his organization's primary concerns — many already being heard in the MGA discussions— centre on the big issues of additional taxes or levies on the homebuilding industry, and clarity around recourse over everything from assessments to public consultation and subdivision procedures.
He said charter discussions thus far have been at the "34,000-foot level," and more detailed sessions with stakeholders have been promised for later this month.
While much of the proposed charters had to be kept confidential as the two cities and province negotiated, now is the time to hear from industry and the public on whether it is the right package to put in front of the Alberta cabinet, said Mary Kirk, communications consultant of intergovernmental and corporate strategy with the City of Calgary.
A wide range of community and industry stakeholders and individual citizens have already made their feelings known on the new charters over the first two weeks of this month.
The Alberta government is also accepting written submissions on the proposals until Nov. 10. It is expected to compile a What We Heard report by December.
The province has said it plans to have the charters in place before next year's October civic elections.
Kirk expects the province will be taking into consideration expected MGA changes when looking at the charter, something Keil said is critical since the MGA is only revised every 20 or 25 years and the charters should fall under its umbrella.
"It is clear the charter can have ongoing discussions about what works," he said.
As for the charters' fiscal framework piece, as well as presentation to cabinet, that work is not expected to begin until next year.
Roll out on those proposals has not been determined, but Kirk said it is important the cities have a new partnership with the province with sustained funding for their new authorities.
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