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Feds Won’t Fund Calgary Housing Strategy Unless City Agrees to Axe Certain Zoning Rules

More than a hundred Calgarians are making their opinions on the city’s housing strategy known Thursday, as a proposed plan to create more housing and improve affordability hangs in the balance. 

And a federal minister says funding for new housing is also dependent on what the council committee decides. 

The committee is spending two days considering the recommendations made in the city’s proposed housing strategy, and collecting input from more than 100 people who have registered to speak at the hearing. 

In a social media post on Thursday, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek shared a letter from Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser, which said if the city doesn’t legalize new missing-middle zoning designations, its Housing Accelerator Fund application will not be approved. 

“[I]n order to receive a positive decision from me on your application — you must end exclusionary zoning in your city,” the letter reads.  

Missing-middle housing is a term that often refers to buildings like mid-rise apartments, duplexes and row houses, which can increase density. The changes regarding rezoning would redesignate portions of land to allow for those types of buildings. 

Gondek would not confirm how much that funding amounts to, as it’s still confidential, but she added that “there is a lot of money at stake here.” 

“Millions,” she said. 

Fraser’s call echoes that of federal Conservatives including party leader Pierre Poilievre, who wants local politicians to remove barriers to getting more housing built. 

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said it’s unfortunate to see the federal minister “dangle” funding in front of them on the day they start public discussions. 

The City of Calgary’s Housing Strategy, if approved, would dictate the city’s strategy from 2024 to 2030. 

Speaking at the public consultation Thursday, Deborah Yedlin, the president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said she supports the city’s proposed strategy. 

“Affordable housing provides both tangible and intangible benefits to the city and the people who live here. From a business standpoint, increasing the diversity of housing available in Calgary will make us a more competitive jurisdiction and this is critical in the race for talent and investment,” she said. 

“I’ll add that affordable housing strengthens our workforce productivity, something we desperately need. When someone has a place to live, they are less stressed about their housing, which improves an individual’s physical and mental health and allows them to fully participate in the workplace.” 

Kelly Ernst, the chief program officer at the Centre for Newcomers, urged the city to act quickly to address the need for affordable housing.

“Five years ago nobody showed up at the centre for newcomers with suitcases. We now see that in regular frequency. Even this week, families showing up with their suitcases at our centre saying ‘I’ve lost my home or I’ve arrived and I have no place to stay,'” he said. 

Frano Cavar, director of government relations with the Calgary Construction Association, said as someone who is 28 years old, the prospect of affording a home is increasingly difficult for many in his generation. 

But he said that people already have the right to redesignate their parcels of land to a higher density if they wish.

“So my question to you is — what difference does it make if the base zoning model is an RC-G? You already approve pretty much every upzoning application. Why add to the red tape by enforcing the existing land-use redesignation process for relatively small impact density? Why add costs and a regulatory burden? Why delay the inevitable?”

He added that he thinks the city needs to do more to address what he said is a huge shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry. 

“You can change the land use policies … but what happens when you don’t have the workers to build the infrastructure in homes that you need? Costs increase, projects are delayed and affordability tanks,” he said. 

Coun. Sharp said she thinks the strategy is missing accountability. 

“I feel like that’s a little bit missing in this document and we want to make sure that we’re actually putting our money where our mouth is and walking the walk,” she said. 

The discussions come the same day Poilievre released his housing plan, which he said would fast-track the construction of new homes in Canada as the country grapples with an acute shortage of affordable places to live.

Poilievre mocked the accelerator fund saying “it sounds like a decelerator fund,” because the program was announced in the 2022 budget, but the first funding commitment was only made about 18 months later, on Wednesday, in London, Ont.

The Calgary public hearings are expected to continue into Friday. The committee will make a recommendation to be considered by city council in a special meeting on Saturday afternoon. 

If the strategy is passed, it means that actions not requiring further council direction or budget approval will begin. Other actions will require public engagement and council deliberation before they come into effect. 

Source : CBC