Calgary is coming together to win the war on homelessness, one home at a time
What a difference a year can make. The City of Calgary launched its affordable housing strategy in July 2016, aiming for a more unified approach to building more housing for low-income individuals and families. Since then, a lot has happened, according to groups that provide housing for low-income Calgarians.
“What we’ve seen in the first year is a tremendous drive toward increased collaboration and recognition that none of us can go it alone,” said Kim O’Brien, CEO of Horizon Housing Society.
The importance of working together in a more co-ordinated fashion cannot be understated because the challenge of providing affordable housing in Calgary is daunting. It’s a problem the City, as well as other Canadian municipalities, have been struggling to address for several years – despite the best of intentions.
“What we’ve learned with strategies grounded in the philosophy of ‘housing first’ is that we actually need an adequate supply of affordable housing,” said O’Brien.
When it comes to affordable housing stock, Calgary has trailed other major Canadian cities, especially when it comes to non-market options that are not subject to supply/demand economics.
“Most major Canadian cities have six per cent of their housing supply as non-market housing and we have about three per cent in Calgary,” said Sarah Woodgate, director of Calgary Housing Company, a City-owned non-profit that operates or subsidizes 10,000 housing units for low income Calgarians. “Our goal is to double that amount.”
The approximately five dozen non-profits in the city currently play a vital role in managing existing supply, and many have an equally important part to play in the construction of new dwellings.
Yet, until recently, one of the biggest challenges these organizations faced was the fact that many of them were working on their own, which fragmented fundraising efforts, O’Brien says.
“Now we are starting to break down [barriers] because we are not competitors,” she said. “There is more than enough demand to go around.”
“Most major Canadian cities have six per cent of their housing supply as non-market housing and we have about three per cent in Calgary. Our goal is to double that amount.” – Sarah Woodgate, Calgary Housing Company
To foster this unity, a number of stakeholders joined forces in the form of the RESOLVE Campaign, providing capital fundraising for member non-profits to build new projects and help pay down mortgages on existing housing complexes.
“Rather than non-profit agencies each trying to do their own fundraising campaign, we do it for them,” said Cheryl Hamelin, executive director of the RESOLVE Campaign.
To date, the campaign has raised more than $60 million, providing housing for roughly 1,500 Calgarians – halfway to its goal of housing the city’s estimated 3,000 homeless. Among the supported projects has been Stepping Stone Manor, a new affordable and supported housing complex for 30 formerly homeless Calgarians.
The money has also helped Horizon to break ground on a $37.5-million, 161-unit project in Glamorgan in southwest Calgary, with rents ranging from $475 to $900 a month.
The City is also doing its part, streamlining the development approval process and waiving fees, as well as providing land at low cost to non-profits for new builds.
“In July, the City put together seven parcels of land, the largest contribution to affordable housing ever,” said Teresa Goldstein, manager of affordable housing with the City of Calgary.
Moreover, the City recently opened up two new affordable housing developments. Sixteen homes opened in May in Crescent Heights and 24 more became available in July in Bridgeland, Goldstein says.
While a lot of good has been accomplished, much remains to be done.
Goldstein says Calgary needs about 15,000 more units to get up to the six per cent benchmark. But following the unveiling of Alberta’s Affordable Housing Strategy in June, and with the federal government’s strategy expected this fall, expectations are higher than ever.