Somewhat surprisingly, we have an issue which all three major parties have agreed on. A housing crisis. There is even agreement on how to deal with it. Both the governing Liberals and the opposition Conservatives agree that cities must loosen zoning regulations and open up more opportunities for row housing, duplexes and apartments.
Opposition leader Poilievre has said if he became PM he would withhold federal funding for infrastructure from municipalities that refuse to ease zoning restrictions. The Liberal government has followed his lead and Calgary is feeling the pressure.
Federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser recently informed the city that its application for Housing Accelerator Fund money would not be approved if it didn’t legalize zoning for new missing-middle housing (duplexes and row houses). In a letter to the city, the minister didn’t mince words, “In order to receive a positive decision from me on your application, you must end exclusionary zoning in your city.”
The city got the message. As I discussed in a recent post, an affordable housing task force recently presented Council with recommendations that included ending zones that allowed only stand-alone homes in most residential areas.
Last week, after a marathon three-day committee meeting where 162 residents shared their concerns about the city’s housing crisis, council voted 12-3 in favour of the plan.
Not only will the city adopt new zoning rules to allow row houses and duplexes anywhere, but included is an incentive program to create new secondary suites, and provision of city land for new housing units. The city is committed to providing two parcels of land for pre-fabricated housing for families facing homelessness this winter and to investing $25 million into post-secondary student housing.
According to Ward 8 Councillor Courtney Walcott, “This is the permission to solve the problem.” Good to hear in a city where average market rent is up 40 per cent from 2021 and the vacancy rate is at three per cent. Median prices for single detached homes are up 37 per cent.
And approval for Council’s decision came from on high. “Just this Saturday, the City of Calgary approved a plan for reducing zoning red tape and building housing by public transit,” reported the Prime Minister in the House. “This is a step in the right direction.”
This approach to solving the housing crisis is particularly appealing in that it increases density rather than sprawl. We have seen the alternative at work in Ontario where the province’s Greenbelt is under threat, yet another example of nickel-and-diming nature to death—the housing crisis melds with the environmental crisis.
Density leads to a more compact city and compact cities are superior cities. They are more efficient, both economically and environmentally, and have greater vitality. People love to be around people.
So Calgary is moving not only to deal with its housing crisis but is creating a better city in the bargain. How can one not be pleased.