Calgarians continued to spill into city hall Friday to share their thoughts on the city’s proposed strategy to address housing affordability, but one recommendation in the plan garnered more attention than others.
It’s the second straight day of public feedback at an extended city committee meeting all focused on ‘Home is Here,’ the city’s proposed housing strategy.
With the cost of renting or owning a home rising exponentially in Calgary, the city’s strategy aims to increase the supply of housing, support affordable housing, help the city’s housing subsidiaries, ensure diverse types of housing to meet the needs of equity-deserving populations, and address the affordable housing needs of Calgary’s Indigenous population.
To achieve the goal of improving housing affordability, the city’s strategy includes close to 80 recommendations from city administration and the city’s Housing Affordability Task Force.
Among those recommendations is a proposal to change the base residential zoning district to include more housing types.
Currently, more than 60 per cent of residential properties in Calgary are zoned to only allow single family homes as a default.
The recommendation asks to change the default zoning type to RC-G, which allows for single family homes, but also different housing like duplexes, triplexes, and row houses.
“It is absolutely imperative that we have a proper mix of housing for everyone to be able to live with dignity in every community in this city,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.
Co-founder of developer RndSqr, Alkarim Devani, highlighted the recommendation during his chance to address council in support of the strategy.
Devani said the current process to apply to rezone a property is “arduous” and can lead to costly and lengthy delays on residential developments that get passed down to the future owner or renter.
“We have a constraint on supply that is driven primarily by zoning,” Devani said. “If we can make supply more accessible, we can make the process more dependable, predictable and quicker, you know that supply will reduce or level out demand because there will be more options.”
Although much of the feedback in the two-day public hearing has overwhelmingly been supportive of the strategy, several speakers on Friday voiced their opposition to the recommendation around zoning reform.
“It will not achieve the goal of creating more affordable housing options,” Bowness resident Jean Woeller told committee. “It will create losers who own homes in established neighbourhoods.”
Others like Bob Morrison said the strategy will only be successful if it is revised to address concerns around zoning reform.
“Housing growth needs to be where people, especially those in the greatest need can easily access services and amenities,” Morrison said. “Blanket rezoning and incentivizing $650,000 row houses in low density areas will not accomplish that.”
Others raised concerns around land value, aging city infrastructure in established areas and the city’s tree canopy.
Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot said he’d like to see a more “gentle transition” through the existing local area planning process ahead of zoning reform across the city.
“To try and do it with one fell swoop with big hammer, I don’t think it’s the right approach,” he told reporters. “We need to use a soft hammer and move forward in a thoughtful, methodical way.”
Other speakers like Candace Chambers acknowledged the concerns of homeowners against the zoning recommendations, but said it can’t derail the strategy as the housing situation in Calgary is untenable for many struggling with affordability.
“I need people to really think this through of what you might be rejecting and what you might be letting young people walk into,” she said. “I remember promises of older generations making things better for the younger. Right now it feels like you’re having fun torturing us.”
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said the status quo isn’t working, and the recommendation is to go beyond and look at the “entire continuum of housing.”
“Half measures have proven themselves to be ineffective and incrementalism has proven itself to be the reason why we’ve seen such drastic housing price increases,” Walcott said.
The zoning recommendation wouldn’t take immediate effect if it’s approved in the housing strategy as it requires another council decision and public hearing to change the current zoning bylaw.
Committee will begin debating the housing strategy on Saturday morning, including any potential amendments from city councillors.
“Is it a silver bullet? No,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said. “Not any single action in the package is a silver bullet. Do they work together? Absolutely.”
If the strategy is approved by committee, it will move to a special meeting of city council as a whole on Saturday afternoon for a final debate and decision.
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