Council Delays Action on Housing Affordability

  • On Tuesday June 6th, Council voted 8-7 against accepting the Housing and Affordability Task Force’s recommendations.
  • Following some substantial criticism over the course of the following hours, Councillor Pootmans requested a reconsideration of the vote when the Council session reconvened the afternoon of June 7th.
  • The recommendations were then amended and approved to be included in the Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy, which will come to the Community Development Committee on September 14th, 2023.

On Tuesday, June 6th, Council heard from City Administration and members of the Housing and Affordability Task Force (HATF) directly regarding their work and recommendations.

The recommendations can be read here:

City Administration's slide deck presentation to Council can be viewed here:

The Housing and Affordability Task Force's slide deck presentation to Council can be viewed here:

Supplemental slides outlining housing value, affordability metrics, parking availability, rate of change, and comparisons of built form compatibility between R-CG, R-C2, and R-C1 can be viewed here:

You can watch the debate below. Chapter headings have been included in the video description if you click through the YouTube link. I strongly encourage viewers to note the objections stated by several Councillors around the 2:46:00 mark.

Council voted these down in a 7-8 vote.

Councillors Chabot, McLean, Pootmans, Wyness, Wong, Sharp, Demong, and Chu voted against. I have summarized the objections offered by my colleagues here, and offered italicized counterpoints to some of the objections they raised. 

  • Councillor Wong’s stated reasons for opposing the recommendations:
    • Lack of clarity regarding how “the virtues associated with the recommendations apply to the context of how we govern”.
    • [Council] “haven’t put the recommendations through an administrative process to determine whether or not we can, can’t, should, shouldn’t."
    • [Council] “haven’t prioritized” and “done the due diligence” and there may be “unintended consequences.”
      • Several senior members of City Administration participated in the Task Force, and their recommendations were entirely within the City's powers within the Municipal Government Act.
    • A public hearing for R-CG base residential district would remove the need for additional public hearings.
    • There might be “other recommendations” that were not in these listed recommendations.
    • The solution to the housing crisis is to simply increase the incomes of those who require housing.
      • Council does not possess mechanisms nor the fiscal capacity to raise the aggregate incomes of Calgarians. Increased incomes would increase demand and bidding on the existing limited housing supply.

 

  • Councillor Wyness’ stated reasons for opposing the recommendations:
    • Victoria, British Columbia was used as an example of a municipality that informed the HATF recommendations, but has been put on a watch list by the B.C. government for not building sufficient housing.
      • For context, Victoria adopted Missing Middle Bylaw Amendments on January 26, 2023.
      • The rules for Victoria's base residential district are not well-crafted, and have resulted in zero applications (see page 7).
      • The City of Victoria was named among ten other B.C. municipalities on May 31 2023 (four months later) as a target for greater housing supply.
      • Building a home can take between seven to nine months.
    • Objections to the idea of rent caps: maximum allowable rent increases in British Columbia, tribunals in British Columbia have long waitlists and landlords take advantage of tenants by threatening to sell the property if tenants do not agree to increases.
      • The backlog and threatened increases have been reported on, though it is not clear that the absence of rent caps would improve the situation or improve affordability.
    • R-CG rezoning “misses the mark when we have to build high-rise apartments”
    • We “need Memorial to be denser, our urban centers to be denser than they are”
    • “It feels like didn’t balance our problem with where we really need to put density”
      • Cities like Toronto have pursued a nodes-and-corridors strategy, concentrating apartment and condominium construction along major traffic-heavy arterial and transit routes.
      • Josh White addressed this, stating that this approach does not address demand for ground-oriented housing.
      • This is why Toronto recently adopted city-wide zoning amendments to allow the development of two, three, and four-unit multiplexes in all Toronto neighbourhoods.
    • “I don’t want any more money going into the downtown strategy”
    • [Council is] “not following those ROIS (returns on investment) on what we’ve already approved and what we’ve been told time and time again is going to solve the problem that exists in our community.”
    • “This is a Canadian crisis, it’s not one city it’s not one municipality, it’s a Canadian crisis because if someone sells out in the Vancouver market or the Toronto market guess what they’re coming here and bidding up our price because they are used to another market. They don’t know what the competition is here.”

 

  • Councillor Sharp’s stated reasons for opposing the recommendations:
    • Frustrated by not having more opportunity to debate some of the recommendations on their merits individually.
      • Most, if not all, of the recommendations that were debated would, if approved, return to Council for budget approvals and/or Public Hearing and a vote.
    • Concerned Administration would begin work on some of these recommendations immediately without a chance to really evaluate how this fits into other priorities like Transit safety.
    • This isn’t the only crisis we face right now as a growing City.
    • It’s a leap to think we should just accept expert recommendations with no further debate on what it all means or whether Calgarians support those recommendations.

 

  • Councillor Pootman's stated reasons for opposing the recommendations: 
    • These recommendations would be far better used as part of a public education program.
    • Did not think that Council should take action on the recommendations, but rather consult the public with education first, then have a successful public engagement.
    • The results (housing affordability) would be illusive without public engagement.

 

  • Councillor Chabot’s stated reasons for opposing the recommendations:
    • Having witnessed the pushback that secondary suites and R-CGs receive in Council he is reluctant to move forward and thinks the recommendations would set Council up for failure.
    • A City-initiated R-CG would generate a lot of public submissions and potentially results in an extremely long public hearing, which could result in Council not approving the initiative based on public feedback.
    • His communities rallied against secondary suites and R-CG redesignation would be like secondary suites on steroids; there is absolutely no way that he could convince his communities to support that major of a change.
      • 24% of households in Ward 10 spend 30% or more of their total income on shelter (2016 Census)
      • 37% of renter households in Ward 10 spend 30% or more of their total income on shelter (2016 Census)
      • 60% of dwellings in Ward 10 were constructed between 1961 and 1980 (2016 Census)

 

Following this debate and the vote against the recommendations, MP Michelle Rempel Garner, MP Scott Aitchison, and MP George Chahal spoke out, as did the University of Calgary’s Student Union, housing providers, and advocates.

This Council session spilled over into the afternoon of the following day, Wednesday June 7th. At that meeting, Councillor Pootmans requested a reconsideration of the initial vote.

In advance of the reconsideration vote,

Councillor Sharp stated that:

  • She wanted to know what the rationale for the reconsideration was, and that members of Council should be mindful not to propose reconsiderations when they don’t get what they want.

Councillor Wong stated that:

  • He didn’t have the opportunity to explain his initial vote without explaining his initial position to the public.

Councillor McLean stated that:

  • He worried about public perception that “democracy dies in darkness,” and that reconsidering a vote might convey to the public the perception of undue influence or coercion.

Councillor Chabot stated that:

  • He was disappointed in the process that was undertaken.
  • He expressed concern that action items in the recommendations were seeking approval to begin immediately, rather than be deliberated further.

Council voted 10-5 in favour of a reconsideration, with Councillors Chabot, McLean, Demong, Wyness and Chu voting against.

The motion regarding the Housing and Affordability Task Force Recommendations were then amended, directing Administration to incorporate the recommendations and action into the revised Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy which is scheduled to return to the Community Development Committee on September 14, 2023.

The amended recommendations and referral to Community Development Committee in September were approved 14-1, with Councillor Chu voting against.

Update: On July 5th, Council received a verbal update.


 

Sign your name if you want Council to take action ASAP to increase housing affordability in Calgary.

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