CHAC steering committee members. From left, Sarah Woodgate (City of Calgary), Jyoti Gondek (Haskayne School of Business), Kevin McNichol (Calgary Homeless Foundation), Beverly Jarvis (CHBA-UDI Calgary Region Association), Kim O’Brien (Horizon Housing Society), John Harrop (Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation), and Jennifer Arntfield (City of Calgary). Photo courtesy CHAC

New housing collective seeks group approach to affordability issues

Billed as the first of its kind in Alberta, Calgary’s Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC) launched earlier this month as a collaborative engine for improving housing affordability in the city.

While a number of local organizations already exist to address barriers to shelter, CHAC is unique is its collaborative approach, said Kim O’Brien, executive director of Horizon Housing Society and co-chair of the CHAC steering community.

“Over the years, strategies have been identified about improving housing affordability, but the strategies weren’t being implemented,” she said, attributing this to key stakeholders operating in silos. Under CHAC’s umbrella, these groups can advocate with a “common voice.”

CHAC, which was conceived about a year ago, has already launched its website, where it is inviting Calgarians to become involved by receiving updates about affordable-housing issues and CHAC initiatives or by attending meetings and offering input.

“Through our website, Calgarians have an opportunity to be a part of the bigger conversation and get involved in the action plan,” said O’Brien.

As to what constitutes “affordable housing,” O’Brien said CHAC is basing it on the benchmark that housing costs shouldn’t exceed 30 per cent of a person’s income. A City of Calgary study released in 2014 revealed one in five Calgarians earning less than $60 000 annually were spending more than 30 per cent of personal their income on housing.

“How do we eliminate current barriers that exist, such as the multiple applications people are required to fill out?”

While CHAC is looking for solutions “at all ends of the housing spectrum, we really want to hone in on where the biggest impact can be felt in terms of those who are in the most need. A lot of our action plan focuses on the lowest levels of income,” said O’Brien.

CHAC’s action plan identifies three key outcomes to which it is working toward:

• An integrated approach to housing;

• A stable and diverse housing mix, and;

• Predictable and stable funding.

“How do we create a one-window solution for those who are trying to access affordable housing in Calgary?” asked O’Brien.

“How do we eliminate current barriers that exist, such as the multiple applications people are required to fill out? Are there ways to facilitate more movement throughout the housing spectrum?”

CHAC is also researching alternate financing methods for non-market housing providers that typically rely on government funding.

CHAC has already started industry engagement by preparing a collaborative submission to the federal government regarding the National Housing Strategy that will be unveiled in 2017.

O’Brien said there has been “great interest thus far” in CHAC. The organization’s steering committee includes representatives from Attainable Homes Calgary, Boardwalk, Calgary Homeless Foundation and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association-UDI Calgary Region.

While CHAC marks the first of its kind in the housing sector in Alberta, O’Brien believes the collective is indicative of “the wave of future.”