March 05, 2021 | Joel Schlesinger
Affordability eye-opener: City report shows lagging need for more affordable housing options
It's no secret that affordable housing is hard to come by in Calgary.
Plenty of studies, including several by the municipal government, have pointed to this problem in the past. Yet none have been able to provide a comprehensive picture – until now.
Earlier this month, the City of Calgary released an unprecedented report called Housing in Calgary: An Inventory of Housing Supply, 2015/2016.
The report's key finding, that the city lacks enough affordable housing to meet demand, may not come as a surprise. What makes the report so important, however, is its wide-ranging approach to illustrating the problem.
"The report primarily raises awareness of all the challenges using the most current information available," said Teresa Goldstein, manager of affordable housing with the City of Calgary.
"And it is of interest to anyone involved in housing in the city."
What also makes the study groundbreaking is its collaborative approach. It is largely the product of the efforts of the Calgary Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC), which includes the City of Calgary, the provincial and federal governments, non-profit housing agencies, think tanks and the private sector.
"It's a real tipping point," said Sarah Woodgate, director of Calgary Housing, a non-profit corporation owned by the City, providing 10,000 subsidized and affordable housing units.
"This is a critical time to make large investments in the long-term cycle of existing housing," as well as build capacity for the future, explained Woodgate.
The report helps provide a lay of the land, while highlighting possible areas of exploration, including working with developers to offer more socioeconomically diverse housing options in new communities.
It's a broad social, economic and political problem that requires all levels of government to act in a coordinated fashion.
It also found, for example, half of the city's households do not have sufficient income to buy a starter home, even in the condominium market.
In addition, more than one in five households do not earn enough to rent an average priced apartment.
Adding to the problem is the city's affordable housing and rental inventory, which is aging with almost 80 per cent of non-market developments at 25 years and older.
It is also unevenly dispersed. More than half of Calgary communities have no affordable housing options. Yet the problem is not unique to Calgary, one researcher says.
"Affordable housing is an issue everywhere in Canada," said Gary Barron, a research associate at the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary.
Barron recently attended one of the National Housing Strategy roundtables in Ottawa where stakeholders from across the country, including developers and builders, discussed the challenges of and solutions to meeting demand for affordable housing.
"It's a broad social, economic and political problem that requires all levels of government to act in a coordinated fashion," he said.
Government, however, is stepping up. The province recently announced $5.7 million in funding for projects across Alberta, including five in Calgary. In 2016, city council approved more than $9 million to support new affordable housing projects.
Yet a lot of work remains. Calgary's affordable housing makes up only 3.6 per cent of its entire inventory, compared with the national average of six per cent.
"And every year that number gets smaller as a percentage," said Woodgate.
Still, the recent report and other initiatives, including the city expediting non-profits through the often long and costly approval and permit process, are steps in the right direction, says Kim O'Brien, executive director of Horizon Housing Society, which owns and operates 580 affordable housing units in the city.
"What I think is encouraging is there are now more conversations about how healthy communities need to have housing options for options for everybody," said O'Brien, who also co-chairs CHAC.
"For Calgary to grow and remain a vibrant city, we absolutely must develop more solutions for affordable housing."