September 14, 2023

Statement on the Calgary City Council Voting on the Recommendations from the Housing and Affordability Task Force

There are very few regions where being able to purchase a home for the first time or continue to rent is feasible. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for how to resolve our housing needs. To solve this housing crisis, we need all levels of government to work together.  

As a Calgarian and a former member of municipal council, I have some insight into some of the choices that resulted in our current crisis. Local governments for too long were preoccupied and beholden to local zoning regulations which were rigid and inflexible. From an Alberta perspective, development was driven by suburban development at the expense of increasing density.

Without local governments willing to increase density, to look at different housing models, including setting aside the preoccupation with parking, we will not meet our housing needs.

It was only during the last city council, that Calgary moved from approving every secondary suite application by council to having an administrative approval process. Imagine every basement suite had to be debated individually by city council. Today we have a more aggressive council that continues to build consensus with local residents to find an acceptable way forward.

That is why this week, Calgary City Council will be voting on recommendations from the Housing and Affordability Task Force. These recommendations will change the direction of how we build housing and solve our housing crisis for the better while balancing the concerns of citizens.

I fully support the Task Force's recommendations and applaud Councillor Walcott, Councillor Carra, and Councillor Penner for bringing the notice of motion forward. My gratitude also goes out to the dedicated individuals who contributed to the Task Force. Combined with the federal government's Housing Accelerator Fund, we have an opportunity to increase access to affordable housing in Calgary.

Firstly, these policies will reduce building barriers and allow diversity in housing types. This will create room for more affordable housing to be built across the city that fits the local community's needs.

Secondly, these policies will work with the market to build more affordable housing in our city. This would involve the federal government incentivizing the construction of additional secondary suites and affordable housing. The establishment of private, non-profit and public partnerships is critical to dealing with the housing crisis.

It is unfortunate that we lacked the foresight to develop a strategy many years ago. As a society, we have been negligent in our efforts. Now with a labour shortage, supply chain challenges and higher interest rates, we are attempting to address a problem that has no short-term solutions. Our challenge is not to accentuate the crisis. The private sector and existing homeowners are the key to finding solutions. The role of local governments is to provide flexibility and the federal government to provide tax incentives and access to financing.  Affordability should be centred on building micro-units and adding additional units to existing residential and commercial/industrial buildings.  

We need to focus on affordable housing that provides affordable ownership or rental opportunities. No student, worker or senior should have to deal with the anxiety of worrying about where they will sleep at the end of the day.

We also need to acknowledge and listen to our neighbours who have invested a lifetime of earnings and sweat equity into their homes and local communities. Our neighbours who may oppose increased density are passionate Canadians. Whether someone considers themselves a progressive or a compassionate conservative, a majority of us agree that we need solutions to move forward.    

Distinct from affordable housing is the challenges of social housing. This type of housing is for those who are underemployed or deal with mental health issues and in many cases, addiction. Social housing is and should be the responsibility of the government, and generally, it is the provincial governments who take the lead. Unfortunately, regardless of partisan leanings, we have had no substantial investment in social housing for a generation.  

During my tenure as a city councillor, I witnessed firsthand the chronic underfunding of provincially owned social housing. I had the opportunity to visit many of these housing units and was disgusted by the substandard living standards endured by Albertans. It is an embarrassment that the provincial government has failed to adequately fund repairs and maintenance for these units. Alberta is a generous province, and I am hopeful our current provincial government will provide the resources required.

Unfortunately, we have not reached a consensus on where and what type of social housing needs to be built. Many individuals who utilize social housing, need not just housing but personalized support and intervention. The best solution seems to be small groups supporting each other rather than clustering individuals in one area or one building. Based on evidence, a majority of those on the streets can reintegrate into society if given a safe and secure home. However, there will be a significant percentage who will require constant support and intervention. We will need to make sure that the most vulnerable in our society are not left behind in our housing plans.

Finally, I will always advocate for the creation of new types of housing. Building single-family laneway homes should be permitted in addition to basement suites. To ensure housing affordability, the federal government should examine amortization flexibility for homeowners and ensure that CMHC funding is available for purpose-built rentals, including secondary suites.

Now is the time for members of Calgary City Council to exhibit unwavering leadership, and endorse the recommendations of the Housing and Affordability Task Force. Doing so is taking the first step toward tackling housing in our city.


George Chahal, M.P.

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