The whole of Calgary is about to undergo one of the most significant housing policy changes in its history — a build whatever, wherever bonanza. In a report submitted to city council in May, the Housing and Affordability Task Force — comprising mostly city employees, ex-city employees and developers — recommended blanket rezoning for any neighbourhood anywhere in the city. This data-starved report has come to the community development committee for approval this week.
The report was compiled in isolation, with no public input.
There is no argument that the report is filled with many sensible recommendations, but blanket rezoning of the entire city is not one of them. It takes away citizens’ democratic right to give input into the evolution of their community where they’ve invested — heavily. This means that, in single-family-home neighbourhoods throughout the city, a developer could snap up the property next door and build eight units on that 50- by 120-foot lot. And you don’t get a say.
It is a radical, reckless and irresponsible policy that lacks supporting data or meaningful measurement of success, and has no proven track record for solving the housing issues cited. Plain and simple.
Rarely, if ever, is an existing single-family dwelling replaced by multiple dwelling units, which each cost less than what was removed. Developers do not construct affordable housing; they construct the amount and type of housing that will maximize their profit.
There is no denying Calgary is currently in a housing crunch and is in dire need of significantly more affordable housing, particularly given that the federal government long ago shunned its responsibility to social housing.
But we are not in a land crisis. In fact, the City of Calgary, being the single largest landowner, has identified only two parcels for residential housing use out of the whopping 407 parcels of land it owns. Further, it is only logical to build higher density and affordable housing along transportation corridors, near LRT stations or on vacant, underutilized and yet well-placed commercial parcels of land that are typically less expensive. That is thoughtful planning.
Instead, the task force’s very first recommendation is to give developers free rein to go into established R1 or R1/R2 neighbourhoods and build with no consideration of whether schools, public parks, roadways or utilities can accommodate the extra demand. The city may be trying to solve an internal red tape issue with this rash policy but, historically, the public has not caused the red tape. City processes are to blame.
It is time the citizens of Calgary defended their established and, in some cases, historically relevant communities from being destroyed by a thoughtless policy that pays no regard to the environmental effects of knocking down trees and buildings.
The city’s first priority should be optimizing development on land around the single biggest transit infrastructure investment the city has made — the Green Line. Then turn its focus internally on improving the development approval processes and how best to utilize the abundance of city-owned land.
We implore you to reach out to your councillors and encourage them to consider a “build where it makes sense” policy to address the housing and affordable housing issues we face today. Blanket rezoning will not necessarily solve the problem the city says it is trying to solve, but it will definitely change the face of Calgary — forever.
Mary Moran is the former president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development. This was written in consultation with the presidents of the following community associations: Chris Welner, Glendale Meadows Community Association; Lynn Jobe, Shawnee Evergreen Community Association; Verna Leask, Meadowlark Park Community Association; Pat Guillemaud, Westgate Community Association; Jeff Hyde, Mayfair Bel-Aire Community Association; Larry Yasman, Rundle Community Association; Philip Lounsbury, Abbeydale Community Association; Ron O’Shea, Crossroads Community Association; Marjorie Roy, Pineridge Community Association; Lisa Poole, Elbow Park Residents Association; Paul Storwick, Rideau Roxboro Community Association.