Home » Archives for October 2014

Month: October 2014

A ‘market’ solution to our affordable housing crisis

Edmonton and Calgary are struggling with a lack of affordable housing, while Calgary’s shelters run at capacity with winter looming. Both cities are also grappling with the infrastructure and transportation costs of on-going urban sprawl and the servicing costs of new neighbourhoods.

Alberta’s big cities need affordable housing, and they need infill development that can attract families to the urban core. Both cities also have development industries that have grown and sustained themselves on the large margins of cheap suburban land and development.

The Premier has stated that he wants a market solution to Alberta’s affordable housing problem. The situation doesn’t need ideology, it needs concrete plans, of the sort that we didn’t see in this by-election. It needs housing starts; affordable homes and rental units, in places where a car isn’t a necessity to live. With some initial support, the non-profit sector could put the housing that Alberta’s cities need, on the market.

A few examples:

It’s called the Quint Development Corporation. Founded by residents with the support of government, it’s been building affordable housing in Saskatoon for almost twenty years.

It’s called the Central Neighbourhoods Development Corporation and was founded in 2007 to help revitalize inner-city Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

“A community development corporation (CDC) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated to provide programs, offer services and engage in other activities that promote and support community development. CDCs usually serve a geographic location such as a neighborhood or a town. They often focus on serving lower-income residents or struggling neighborhoods. They can be involved in a variety of activities including economic development, education, community organizing and real estate development. These organizations are often associated with the development of affordable housing.” – Wikipedia

I received my introduction to the concept of community development corporations while volunteering time to work on Edmonton’s Transit Oriented Development Guidelines for the EFCL. The city had brought in a consultant to speak to TOD, best practices, affordable housing, etc. The part that stood out to me was on affordable housing and how, in their experience, most affordable housing around transit/light-rail in the U.S. was being built by non-profit development corps.

For us community volunteers in attendance, the idea stuck, and we suggested it for inclusion into the final report for Mayor Mandel’s Community Sustainability Taskforce. Non-profit organizations that with some initial seed money, could take on a role building infill and affordable housing in some of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods. The suggestion unfortunately wasn’t included in the Elevate Report, but it’s still being pursued.

With the development and housing issues that Edmonton and Calgary are currently facing, it’s an idea that we should begin discussing on a provincial scale.

Initiating non-profit redevelopment agencies in Alberta’s cities isn’t just a way to help boost housing stock and increase neighbourhood density. They’re an avenue for community development; giving residents a chance to help guide the built-form of their neighbourhoods and educating residents on the trials and costs of building in older communities.

Our older neighbourhoods also struggle with derelict properties, and there are few legislative tools for municipalities to take action on them. A derelict property sees its municipal taxes decrease, while becoming a blight on the community. A new cities charter may or may not give municipal councils tools such as tax levies to encourage redevelopment of a property. Having a community-owned developer who’s ready and willing to purchase and rebuild a problem property into an asset for the community, helps regardless.

Between Government and ‘the market’ there’s a way to help build affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and alternatives to urban sprawl. It’s worked in the U.S., and it’s worked in other provinces. Community league volunteers have been talking about it for years. It’s time for MLAs and Councillors to do the same.