Over the past two days, the City of Calgary has hosted a civic forum inviting residents to chime in on the housing affordability crisis. I took a Friday afternoon off and spent three hours listening to presenters. I did so not having read a 30 point recommended blueprint drafted by “experts” which will be before city councillors for a vote. It was apparent that most of the presenters I had witnessed had briefed themselves on the document.
Firstly, I was generally impressed by the quality of presentations to the point that some hope has been restored with respect to the capacity of our people to articulate positions around social policy. People demonstrated an empathy for others not necessarily aligned demographically with themselves.
Secondly, the degree of the problem was showcased emotionally by those impacted. Statistical data points were highlighted by citizens holding career positions oriented around the issue. The city did an admirable job of accommodating no less than 150 presenters while providing audio / visual support.
A backdrop to the forum is an offer from our federal government to provide housing targeted funding with conditions oriented around a blanket zoning change to all communities which would ultimately expedite building approvals city wide. This blanket zoning change would enable “mid-block” infills to accommodate multi-family buildings irrespective of the character surrounding communities only ascribed to single family dwellings. You can see where this is going. The conditional funding offered is substantial. Municipalities will be asked to sign on from a position of weakness having not effectively planned communities for decades while home owners wonder why they are expected to acquiesce to a zoning change potentially negatively impacting their homes market value. Suddenly a carrot is being waved at city councillors across the country which will help break ground on new construction to aid in resolving the housing crisis.
While the federal government’s aggressive immigration policy spurned the housing crisis, the accommodation made for Ukrainian and African refugees has put us into a crisis and action is required – that is the kind of action now not subject to the luxury of urban planning studies. The failures are easily evident in massive urban sprawl and downtown core vacant office buildings. If we promise a Canadian way of life including a home to immigrants and refugees willing to contribute, it’s apparent to me that we must deliver or send them back with a note that we’ve failed them.
We can’t have everything all of the time in the context of serving multiple demographics within a civilized society. Canadian home owners have seen amazing valuation returns on their property and may continue to do so but will be asked to provide their community assets toward the assimilation of those marginalized. It’s actually social while preserving the capitalist ideal. The purchase of a home within Canada has never come with a guarantee that there would never be a zoning change. Everyone must do their part to solve a society ill. Working collectively is good for us all – especially during a time of much division. Some homeowners will be impacted more than others should an infill turn to a multi-family building. City bylaws may need updates. Life will go on.