Calgary’s “Affordable Housing” Task Force Plan Is Light On Positives, Heavy On Subsidies

Written By Drew Barnes, Posted on June 23, 2023

Having a great title is everything when pushing for new government programs. It barely matters what your policy goals are after you title your proposal insinuating that what it entails will only do good things or stop only bad things. 

This is absolutely the case with the Calgary Affordable Housing Task Force reccomendations. Just because “affordable housing” is in the title does not mean the recommendations would make housing as a whole more affordable.

(Photo from the CBC)

The task force’s recommendations run the likely risk of increasing the cost of housing for the majority of Calgarians, for the benefit of a lucky few. At its base, the recommendations in this report are merely a subsidization or rent control scheme that has been implemented in one way or another in other cities like Toronto and Vancouver, places where housing costs have only gone up no matter what interventions their governments makes.

The recommendations include such points as:

Include policy in the Municipal Development Plan immediately that every Local Area Plan should enable a minimum of 15% of the total housing units to be non-market Affordable Housing (as defined by The City) to provide equal distribution across the city

Enable diverse housing types by incorporating the full spectrum of Neighbourhood Urban Form categories in each Local Area Plan. (ie. jamming apartment buildings into residential neighbourhoods) 

Remove minimum parking requirements in all residential districts

Allocate $100M per year to the Housing Land Fund to acquire land or, provide existing City land for the creation of non-market housing. This could be funded through a combination of sources including the mill rate, a percentage of redevelopment levies, or other financial tools.

There are other points that revolve around removing public consultation to new major building projects and getting rid of zoning laws that keep multi-story buildings from being built in neighbourhoods initially reserved for single-unit detached houses. 

It all raises the question, why not just reduce property taxes and streamline the development process? To the task force’s credit, they do vaguely state that the development process should be sped up, but they never mention reducing property taxes once. There is a good chance the task force’s plan would increase property taxes and housing costs.

If you are not part of the lucky 15% of individuals who get into under-market housing units you will likely have to pay higher prices to subsidize that 15%. On top of that, with the recommendation that the City of Calgary and the province of Alberta invest hundreds of millions of dollars into buying up land for more housing units, and public housing projects, no doubt property taxes will go up to pay for all of it.

So far Mayor Jyoti Gondek has not proven herself to be afraid of raising taxes, and this recommendation report gives her a great excuse to ratchet up the costs on Calgary property owners yet again. 

The National Telegraph reached out to Calgary Ward 13 Councillor Dan McLean to talk about this report. Despite the pressure on councilors from both progressive activists and even some Conservative MPs to give into the “affordable housing” strategy, McLean has stood strongly against the recommendations.

When asked why McLean still opposes the plans for “affordable housing” McLean said:

First off, right there in the name “afffordable housing,” whose against affordable housing? You know that’s like saying “I love puppies.” Most people seem to have just looked at the affordable housing name and never read the report. It is pretty in depth and detailed and in some spots it’s pretty darn good, but there were also some spots that weren’t so good. 

The biggest reason for the opposition to the report was the change to zoning for mass density everywhere (R-CG zoning) and that is going to upset a lot of people. The report has not done enough engagement with people across the whole city to get their feedback.

Councillor McLean also mentioned that many people who have paid a long time into purchasing their permanent residency are being jibbed when the government densifies their neighbourhood and undermines the equity they had built up in their houses. 

Ward 13 Councillor Dan McLean (Photo from 660 News)

When then asked about why property tax relief or cuts have not been considered in the task force’s report, McLean stated that:

We (councillors opposing the recommendation report) have all mentioned that. I have mentioned that to all my council mates and the mayor and said if they want to make things more affordable then don’t raise Calgarians’ taxes. We just raised their taxes las year almost 4% and it will probably go up another 4% after budget deliberations this year because a lot of councilors have things on their wishlist they want to spend on which may increase things more than 4%. 

The latest thing we have is making people pay for parking in front of their own homes in certain areas of the city. That’s not affordable.

We need to lower property taxes and speed up development permits, it is simple as that. We need to increase the supply, not put artificial controls on prices.

When asked if much of what the Affordable Housing Task Force is asking for amounts to some form of rent control or housing subsidization, McLean agreed saying:

Exactly. There is a key word there ‘subsidizing’. People talk about affordable homes but there is a difference between affordable and subsidized, those are two different things. Why does somebody get rent or home subsidies and then another person doesn’t? In the interest of fairness and equity, which we hear a lot about these days, rent control is not going to help. With federal interest rates going up, property owners are not going to make any money on rent-controlled units and will stop offering rental properties. 

Dan McLean in response to critics of his perspective, without naming names said

Everyone is doing things for their own politics, and not enough people actually read the report. Some of them didn’t understand that the report was calling for mass density initiatives not just some softening of zoning bylaws. The name of the report is misleading so I can understand how some people assumed the task force was actually taking affordability seriously when the recommendations would likely lower affordability. 

Although Calgary-Centre Conservative MP Greg McLean has stood behind the several councilors’ decision to oppose the recommendation report, Conservative MPs Scott Aitchison and Michelle Rempel Garner characterized the councilors as standing against affordable housing.

Aitchison specifically released a list of a few of the good points from the Affordable Housing Task Force recommendation report but did not mention the report also recommended price caps, no property tax relief, and eliminating public input on projects.

There may have been a disconnect between someone like Aitchison and some of the more conservative members of Calgary’s council. Aitchison was likely simply frustrated by the fact something called “affordability” recommendations were being rejected and didn’t take notice that all the high-tax councilors like Kourtney Penner and Mayor Gondek were supporting the recommendations.

It does not matter if you say you want to increase the supply of housing, if you start dictating prices while continuing to increase property taxes you will cause developers to look at other jurisdictions to build in. 

Calgary currently has some of the lowest housing costs compared to Canada’s other major cities, and we haven’t had these “affordability” measures in place. There must already be things we are doing right, so lets tread carefully when trying to make changes to zoning and adding on price controls. 

Drew Barnes

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