Affordable housing advocates bullish on possible changes
By the end of this year, at least 200 middle-income Calgarians will have bought what may have seemed financially impossible in the city’s now waning hot economy: their own home.
Another two dozen families will, in 2015, aided by many hours of sweat equity instead of a down payment, have entered home ownership.
Yet these Calgarians, who became homebuyers this year through Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation (AHCC) and Habitat for Humanity, might not be the only ones stepping into a more affordable housing market in the near future.
By December, significant changes are expected to the City of Calgary’s administrative policies to make growth in the overall housing market both more efficient and less costly.
Joel Armitage, a core member of Build Calgary, says the group is scheduled to take proposed changes to council in December on off-site levies charged to land developers. That will be followed throughout 2016 by more changes, including added certainty for developers over when they can develop land.
The group is reviewing five areas: off-site levies, land supply process, legislative process (with the province), partnerships with regional municipalities/agencies and non-residential tax revenue generation through commercial/retail transit-oriented development.
Build Calgary was established by City of Calgary manager Jeff Fielding last year as a collaboration between local business units and external stakeholders to prioritize and meet growth demands.
While the economic slowdown has halted the kind of extreme growth Calgary has recently seen (100,000 new residents over three years) and housing prices have dropped (benchmark prices in
October were down 0.7 per cent from the previous month, and 1.2 per cent from the same time last year, to $453,100), Armitage says the review may be even more important, now.
“The changing market focuses us because we need to protect that existing tax base by working with industry,” said Armitage, who is also director of the City’s Office of Land Servicing and Housing department.
While attracting and sustaining commercial/retail growth — with proportionally higher density and property taxes — is essential, Armitage says companies will continue to move to Calgary only if their employees can find affordable housing.
Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Calgary Region president Wendy Jabusch says this is the perfect time to be working with the City to bring better alignment on growth.
Jabusch, who is also vice-president of Calgary homes for developer Brookfield Residential, says current civic development policies were fine for a small municipality, but are too convoluted in a large one.
“We need to be prepared for a future with many housing choices, for wherever a person wants to live,” she said. “Which goes to affordability; we need to preserve affordability for Calgarians.”
AHCC president and CEO David Watson says since his organization, a non-profit wholly owned by the City, started selling condos and townhomes in 2011, 700 Calgarians have been able to move from renting, to home ownership
Through AHCC, middle-income citizens (average household income is $65,000 to $70,000) are offered below market prices and an equity loan toward a condo or townhome developed either on City-owned land, or in partnership with Calgary homebuilders that offer individual discounted units or whole buildings.
“The builders don’t lose money, but they are prepared to take less. They want to give back to the community,” said Watson.
Some current Attainable Homes projects include Orchard Sky with Truman Homes in Skyview Ranch, inner-city Varsity 4818 with Lexington Development Management and ARRIVE at Skyview Ranch Arbours with Partners Development Group.
Just this September, Habitat for Humanity provided 14 families with keys to homes in Qualico Developments’ Redstone project in the northeast. The owners, who must participate in their homes’ builds, didn’t need a down payment and received no-interest mortgages
Later this month, Habitat for Humanity will also launch a 24-home build in northeast community of Pineridge, in addition to six units in Airdrie next year.
Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta president and CEO Gerrad Oishi says sales at the company’s ReStore (new and used housing items and building materials) cover the organization’s operating costs. Mortgage payments of Habitat homeowners (with average household incomes of $50,000) go into a revolving fund that builds homes for others, with donations, sponsorships and gifts-in-kind.