A path for growth

Calgary takes steps to addressing housing and infrastructure challenges

A new development in the northwest community of Varsity will provide affordable housing for Calgarians looking for a home of their own.

Attainable Homes Calgary Corp. (AHCC) and Lexington Development Management have joined forces to create the 26-unit project, made up of both attainable and market-priced units on the corner of Shaganappi Trail and Varsity Drive N.W.

“It’s a great spot. It’s near the university. It’s near shopping centres. It’s a great location,” said Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland. “It’s very rare that we actually get to have these types of land even available, so the community’s been very supportive. They voted on it, they support the project and so do I.”

AHCC is a non-profit group wholly owned by the City of Calgary that provides entry-level homes for residents caught in the affordability gap through below market prices and $2,000 down payments. Once people decide to sell their attainable home, a portion of the appreciation is shared with AHCC to be reinvested in the program.

“When [attainable home owners] move out of their current situation, that frees up a rental for someone else as well. And when someone moves into that market rental, that frees up subsidized rental for someone else,” said AHCC chairman David Laycock.

“When that subsidized rental gets freed up, guess what? Someone who is in emergency housing will be able to then move into subsidized housing. So all we’re trying to do is provide a little bit of a gateway where there’s a bit of a log jam for deficiency in the market to be able to help move things along.”

The necessity for attainable and affordable housing for Calgarians highlights some of the strain caused by the city’s steady growth. While expected to slow this year, in-migration numbers hit record highs in Calgary in both 2013 and 2014. As a result, the city’s vacancy rate hovered around one per cent for most of the year before improving slightly to 1.4 per cent – both among the country’s lowest in 2014.

Many would-be renters turned their attention to the housing market, where they met equally tough conditions. Listings in both the condo and single-family markets did not surpass sales until later in the year, creating unusually tight market conditions for buyers.

New listings have since increased in Calgary – there were 5,474 at the end of February, a nine per cent increase compared to January – yet the average benchmark price of a home in the city still sits at $456,300, according to CREB®. While more affordable than Toronto’s benchmark average of $528,900 and Vancouver’s average of $649,700 for February, it still outpaces the Canadian average of $431,812.

Population growth over the past two years has also placed added strain on Calgary’s existing infrastructure. In 2013, a lack of sewer line capacity forced the City to cease any further development in 16 northwest communities, including Bowness, Hawkwood, Tuscany and Royal Oak.

Since then, the City has embarked on what’s been dubbed the Bowness Sanitary Trunk initiative, which includes upgrades to the existing wastewater system, adding a second wastewater pipeline under the Bow River and completing waste upgrades in Bowness.

“Tunneling under the river is done. The other shafts that are along the railroad are getting built right now. Tunneling [there] should happen within the next couple months,” said Sutherland. “The project is totally online and it’s going extremely well.”

The tunneling is included in the first phase of the project – stretching from 13 Avenue N.W., up 67th Street just past Bowness Road – is 90 per cent completed, said Gregory Kozhushner, leader of project engineering underground with the City. The second phase continues to Bow Crescent N.W.

The $50-million project has an expected completion date of September 2016 and is anticipated to accommodate growth until 2026.

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