The fight over Calgary’s housing plan
The rumble over rezoning is still to come.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Just this Saturday, the City of Calgary approved a plan for reducing zoning red tape and building housing by public transit. This is a step in the right direction.
LILY BRESLIN: We are currently living in a society where rent and buying houses, it's a survival-of-the-richest environment.
SUSAN GWYNN: What are you doing for people today? To-day.
COUNCILLOR PETER DEMONG: I don’t believe this is a made-in-Calgary problem, and I don’t believe this is going to get solved by a made-in-Calgary solution.
JEREMY KLASZUS (HOST): It was a public hearing for the ages. I’m referring to the discussion over Calgary’s new housing strategy, which council approved after a three-day committee meeting—including two days of public speakers.
We’ll get to that in a bit. But first, let’s start right outside the doors of city hall.
WILLEM KLUMPENHOUWER: What do we want?
KLUMPENHOUWER: When do we want it?
KLASZUS: That was a pro-housing rally outside city hall on September 14, the day this meeting on the housing strategy kicked off.
The strategy has a bunch of actions in it. One is for the city to make more land available near transit for housing—including non market housing. Another is to make R-CG the base level of zoning in Calgary, to allow for townhouses and rowhouses alongside single family homes and duplexes. This is sometimes referred to as “ending exclusionary zoning,” or alternatively as “upzoning” or “blanket rezoning.” What you call it probably depends on your viewpoint on this particular issue.
When I move out of my parents’ basement, I won’t have a starter home in my neighbourhood because it’s all single detached homes.
The strategy also directs city hall to investigate different models and possibilities for rent control, and present the findings to the Alberta government.
GIL MCGOWAN: We can’t have rent control in this province without changes to the Municipal Governments Act, which is provincial. We need provincial tools to let this city council do what we need them to do, to ensure affordable housing in this community. Thank you.
KLASZUS: That was Gil McGowan with the Alberta Federation of Labour, speaking at the rally. Inam Teja was one of the Calgarians who attended the protest.
INAM TEJA: Calgary is well below what we need to be in terms of non-market affordable housing units. We don’t have the zoning requirements for the kind of diversity that we need in our neighbourhoods. And for me, that means when I move out of my parents’ basement, I won’t have a starter home in my neighbourhood because it’s all single detached homes. And there’s no way that I’ll be able to afford that, even with a solid salary.
KLASZUS: So that’s a little of what was happening outside city hall. We’re going to head inside and hear how this all went down. Federal housing minister Sean Fraser sent a letter to Mayor Jyoti Gondek that morning, saying Calgary would only get federal funding from the housing accelerator program if it approved the full strategy, including the rezoning.
But here is where things get interesting—the federal Liberals and Conservatives have been saying almost the exact same thing on this file. Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner has accused certain Calgary councillors of pandering to so-called “NIMBY votes.” And earlier in September, Conservative MP and housing critic Scott Aitcheson urged council to approve the strategy, including the rezoning: “We won’t close this divide with half-measures,” he wrote at the time. “We won’t get there with another pilot project. We won’t get there by ignoring the solutions that experts have already presented to you.”
But even though rezoning is part of the strategy—it’s not law yet. City hall needs to draft up new land use bylaws, and those will still need to be approved by council. And there will be a public hearing on specifically those bylaws.
We’re going to hear what Calgarians had to say about those moves. But first I want to quickly revisit something from the last Sprawlcast episode. I talked about how cities like New York City and Halifax have cracked down on Airbnbs and other short-term rentals in response to the housing shortage. And I said that besides tweaking its regulations earlier this year, city hall has kept its hands off that particular lever.
In that episode, I neglected to mention an important bit of information. Last November, the city commissioned University of Calgary researchers to do a $300,000 study on Calgary’s short-term rental market. And while the results aren’t out yet, the city’s community planning director, Debra Hamilton, gave an indication to council members of what the study has found so far.
DEBRA HAMILTON: Currently in Calgary, we have about 5,000 short-term rentals. Early conversations and early report back from the U of C indicates that the majority of our short-term rentals are transitory. Meaning that people rent them out for a month here or there throughout the year, specifically around Stampede time. So they would not— early indications—add much back to the housing rental pool, if we made significant changes.
Early report-back from the U of C indicates that the majority of our short-term rentals are transitory.
Day 1: 'What do we want? Housing!'
KLASZUS: On the first day of the public hearing on the housing strategy, pretty much everyone spoke in favour of the recommendations.
SNIZHANA BORA: Hello to everybody. My name Snizhana Bora. I am from Kharkiv, Ukraine. I arrived in Canada to Calgary three months ago... From the first day we were here, I started looking for a home. We looked at apartments every day. But we were refused for various reasons. First, we have a small child, three years old. And she might make noise and some discomfort for the neighbours. We have no credit history, so it’s impossible for newcomers. And or six months’ rent must be paid.
We have no credit history, so it’s impossible for newcomers.
KLASZUS: Here’s Kelly Ernst, the chief program officer at the Centre for Newcomers.
KELLY ERNST: Five years ago, nobody showed up at the Centre for Newcomers with suitcases. We now see that in regular frequency. Even this week, families showing up with their suitcases at our centre saying, I’ve lost my home, or I’ve arrived, and I have no place to stay. What do I do now?
HAZEN ELLWOOD: My name is Hazen Ellwood, but my friends call me Biz. Councillors who vote yes get automatic admittance to the list...
Here’s the broad stroke—unsurprisingly, my job does not pay me enough to decide whether or not I like living with my parents. Even less, once you factor in the master’s degree that I have to expedite so that I don’t get priced out of this city. This economy forces me to live with my parents, where I likely could remain until I’m 30.
Now, I’m lucky that my parents actually like me, and I’m not here saying that I’m forced to leave, like my beautiful trans and queer friends, who otherwise keep in the closet because homelessness is a fear greater than a crushed soul. A secondary function of this year’s Pride festival was networking. Networking between queer folks who hope to have a bed and a roof for the next 30 days.
Economic policy and social policy are one in the same. These are not disconnected or zero sum silos. These are complex problems that we all stand to gain some equity from. That’s why I urge the committee to support the housing strategy, including all 33 actions previously outlined by the taskforce.
Economic policy and social policy are one in the same. These are not disconnected or zero-sum silos.
MATEUSZ SALMASSI: My name is Mateusz Salmassi, and I’m the vice-president external of the students union at the University of Calgary, where I represent over 29,000 undergraduate students. I’m an international student. I’ve struggled with housing. I’m someone who wants to become a permanent resident here in Canada. I’m planning my future here in Calgary, and it’s why I chose the University of Calgary...
When I first started my degree, my best option was an overcrowded, mice-infested room in a basement. My last landlord was caught by a health inspector trying to rent me an asbestos-ridden rental. I couch surfed for nearly a month, and all I got for that was a slight refund on my rent for that month. These are the options for students, and we know they aren’t going to magically improve once we graduate.
BO MASTERSON: My name is Bo Masterson. I live in Ward 14, and I’m the executive director of the Women’s Centre of Calgary, which is situated in Ward 7...
We have women sleeping in Emergency waiting rooms with their children because they have nowhere else to go. We have been forced to send senior women out of their community, and even Calgary, because they’re unable to find emergency shelter space in Calgary. In desperate moments, we have paid for hotel rooms for women and their children, only for the hotels to evict them the next day. We have worked with women who are harassed by their landlords, and cannot leave because the rental market is so dire. We have talked with women who can’t find rental accommodations because they are overtly discriminated against, based on their gender, their gender expression, their race, their marital status, their sexual orientation, source of income, and as we have heard, their credit history.
These are deplorable human rights violations that are happening every day in our city.
When I first started my degree, my best option was an overcrowded, mice-infested room in a basement.
SUSAN GWYNN: My name is Susan Gwynn, and I am here on behalf of Poverty Talks!...
We have a city that says, when it comes to tent cities, well, we’ll just rip them out, and move them on to nowhere that has hope; nowhere that’s a house; nowhere that’s a home. Because being a Calgarian means that you need to have a property tax bill—that’s what it feels like to us. So, we love the recommendations. We’re never going to say no. On the other side of that, what are you doing for people today—to-day—that are going—some people I bet who are here, who are leaving here and going to what? So, what does this do for today’s people? It’s great for three years down the road. But today, we have tent cities. We have people without food. We have people without shelter. We have people without drinking water. We have people without clean underwear.
LILY BRESLIN: My name is Lily Breslin. I’m 20 years old, and I’m a full-time student at the University of Calgary. And I’ve been a tenant in the rental market since I was 16 years old...
If we don’t take action quickly, then students, university students, and kids who have to leave abusive homes, are going to be living on the streets. And this is going to increase the drug and substance abuse problems we already face in this city. And more and more members of our population are going to enter that demographic, which is obviously going to make Calgary a less livable and a less sustainable city. We are currently living in a society where rents and buying houses, it’s a survival-of-the-richest environment. When I was applying for rental places, I’d looked the entire summer from July to August, and I’m lucky to be where I am now. But before I could even send messages, places were already gone for prices above what it was listed for.
What does this do for today’s people? It’s great for three years down the road. But today, we have tent cities.
KLASZUS: Rent control came up repeatedly during the meeting, even though it’s not within municipal jurisdiction—and the UCP has made it clear that they’re opposed to it. Here’s a lively exchange between Councillor Courtney Walcott and BILD Calgary, the local homebuilders association.
You’re going to hear Walcott asking questions of two people from BILD: Kathy Oberg and Graeme Melton. Oberg runs B&A, a planning consultancy, and Melton is a VP for Melcor developments. But here they’re representing BILD.
COUNCILLOR COURTNEY WALCOTT: Do some of your members operate their own buildings, especially those that are renters of purpose built rentals?
KATHY OBERG: We have some that have come into that area. Certainly, it’s a small percentage of our developers and builders, but it is an area that they are certainly coming in and providing that supply to the city.
COUNCILLOR WALCOTT: Okay. Within your membership and without, just an industry-wide conversation, do you believe that rent gouging is a real phenomenon?
GRAEME MELTON: [Pause] Yeah, that’s a tough question to answer. We’re not—like our principal business isn’t supporting and advocating for landlords. I couldn’t answer that one for you.
COUNCILLOR WALCOTT: The reason why I have to ask, is because you’re advocating to not even have a discussion on rent control. And so, I would assume that you would have looked into it, if you’re going to make the argument to not have a discussion on rent control. You’ve got to see the challenge as to why people are asking you for it, if you’re going to argue against a proposed solution.
OBERG: And that’s a fair question. I think we’re questioning how that affects supply.
We are currently living in a society where rents and buying houses, it’s a survival-of-the-richest environment.
KLASZUS: That wasn’t the end of the exchange.
OBERG: And some of the amendments that we’re asking for is we want to try to be valuable to the conversation, to see if there’s unintended consequences that in the end, we can’t—maybe the housing prices don’t change in some of the stuff we’re providing, but we’d like to see it change.
COUNCILLOR WALCOTT: Then, I’ve got to ask why you would recommend not having the conversation?
OBERG: Which conversation?
COUNCILLOR WALCOTT: About rent control.
OBERG: Let’s have the conversation after this. I think we need a strategy that needs to go in, but I think we need to know more about it. Yeah.
KLASZUS: Another question that emerged in this meeting is how the housing strategy fits into other city plans. And as I was sitting there in council chambers, I was thinking about how it’s easy to get cynical about all this. Council approves grand plans, then ignores them and falls miserably short of targets. This is true of the Municipal Development Plan, which was approved in 2009 and aims to shift half of all growth into established areas. And then there are the city’s climate plans.
Council heard that if you want to take the climate strategy seriously, the housing strategy is important.
JOEL TRUBILOWICZ: My name is Joel Trubilowicz. I’m a resident of Ward 11 in Lakeview, and I’m here representing the City of Calgary’s climate advisory committee....
We support the adoption of the base R-CG zoning across the city, and removal of the minimum parking requirements for new developments. These policies have the potential to make a great positive impact, both for affordability, and for reducing carbon emissions from Calgary... Basically, you appointed us to provide advice on things like this, and our advice is emphatically yes.
These policies have the potential to make a great positive impact, both for affordability, and for reducing carbon emissions from Calgary.
Day 2: 'We encourage council to vote against blanket upzoning'
KLASZUS: On the second day of the hearing, there were still people speaking in favour, but there was much more opposition. Specifically when it comes to rezoning.
We’ll hear that shortly, but first we’re going to start with local journalist Jessica Barrett, who is currently writing a book about housing.
JESSICA BARRETT: This is not, as many have said, a simple issue of supply and demand. It is a complex issue of supply and demand.
The forces behind the financialization of housing, which is treating housing as a financial asset rather than a social good, are infecting—they’re global. They are infecting every city in the entire world, almost, and they are here in Calgary. Since moving here, I have spoken to realtors who have seen entire condo developments sold to speculators from out of town. I have spoken to developers who are frustrated that they can’t build affordable housing due to economic constraints. And they know they’re building homes for people who already have one, or two, or three, or more....
We are so culturally addicted to housing as an investment, as being your retirement fund, that people think nothing of picking up an extra home and selling their lot and cashing out for the highest dollar.
This is not, as many have said, a simple issue of supply and demand. It is a complex issue of supply and demand.
SCOTT LAIRD: My name is Scott Laird. I live on Rideau Road SW in Ward 8. The current R-C1 zoning is an attribute to our property that we value. If this proposal is approved in its current form, that attribute will be taken away from us without our consent. And if that is perceived as self-serving, then so be it. We purchased our home in 1986 with the knowledge that the zoning was R-C1. We’ve made significant financial investments in expanding the dwelling, and maintaining it to the standards appropriate, in our view, for an RC-1 community. We feel that if council were to approve the blanket change to R-CG, it could be viewed as an impairment to the value of our property without compensation.
SAMANTHA STOKES: My name is Samantha Stokes, and I have provided submissions to council, both as a board member of the Elboya Britannia Community Association, as well as myself personally...
On behalf of our community association, we urge council to vote on each taskforce recommendation separately. And in particular, we encourage council to vote against blanket upzoning, and removal of parking minimums. Inner-city infrastructure was not designed for R-CG neighbourhoods. It was designed for R-C1 with single families. As we’ve seen, for example, throughout Marda Loop, Altadore and South Calgary, the introduction of denser forums leads to traffic congestion, and associated issues with water, sewage, and other utilities, which were not designed for higher density. This imposes costs on all taxpayers.
KEN YOUNG: My name is Ken Young, and I live in the community of Windsor Park. I believe that there is a path to a win-win that offers more and higher density housing, while also preserving diversity of housing in this neighbourhood. Accelerate densification of community corridors and main streets. Accelerate development of underutilized land adjacent to Macleod Trail. It never ceases to amaze me, that there is a city-operated impound lot covering, what I calculate to be about four hectares immediately adjacent to the 39th Avenue LRT. A couple of larger multi-unit residential buildings would provide as many households as a wall of row houses on every north/south street in Windsor Park, with no displacement of current residents.
In particular, we encourage council to vote against blanket upzoning and removal of parking minimums.
TONY MORRIS: My name is Tony Morris, and for the last 10 years, I’ve been the co-president of the Calgary River Communities Action Group, a not-for-profit volunteer society formed in the days after the 2013 floods...
Upzoning will increase density, but may simply not address affordability to those folks most in need. This one recommendation is the nuclear option... We suggest that council take this generational decision to the people that elected it. It is much more significant to this city’s future, than whether another Olympic Games is held here. So, let the people decide through a clear plebiscite, or at the next election.
ADELE SANOY: If a new blanket zoning comes into effect, then houses are ripped down and thrown into the landfill. R-CG allows for four units on a property, which takes more wood, more resources. So why destroy what’s already there?
CANDICE CHAMBERS: I’ve heard a lot of voices today that were people representing the haves—the owners. I understand you own your homes, and that’s great. I love that for you. But there are people that don’t have that, and this is what the recommendations are trying to open the door for.
We suggest that council take this generational decision to the people that elected it… Let the people decide through a clear plebiscite.
KLASZUS: Now we’ll hear another citizen, Anthony Cox, getting into it with his councillor, Richard Pootmans.
ANTHONY COX: I would suggest that the social contract is more about a homeowner buying in a particular neighbourhood, to live in for often decades in our ward, Ward 6, where I am one of your constituents, as you know. [It's] based on their considered view that they want to live in a certain way, and that their neighbours agree to do so as well. That social contract of, I see this, I like this, I buy this, my neighbours want this too, we all want the same thing, is a social contract that predates this months’—and I say, months’ old debate—by decades, at least.
And that homeowner was there first, and we all know and understand that being there first should and does have meaning when it comes to land. And my last point is, there is no expectation of that homeowner that the zoning of the area where he lives in will be randomly and broadly revisited and changed, making their chosen neighbourhood unrecognizable, and their longtime chosen home unliveable, or irrevocably devalued, compromising their financial wellbeing, and leaving them no choice but to join the accelerating wave of community exodus, involuntarily fleeing their chosen home and neighbourhood.
COUNCILLOR RICHARD POOTMANS: I guess I simply don’t accept any of the above.
COX: We have that in common, Councillor. I don’t accept your position either.
COUNCILLOR POOTMANS: It’s just I think that change is inevitable. Thirty, 40,000 people a year coming to the city. If people are thinking about a “Leave It to Beaver” environment for the rest of their lives, that’s not on the table. That simply is an unrealistic fantasy.
COX: It’s part of the greater solution.
If people are thinking about a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ environment for the rest of their lives, that’s not on the table. That simply is an unrealistic fantasy.
Day 3: Preferences and needs—how council members responded
KLASZUS: On day three, council members put forward a bunch of different amendments to the strategy. Some succeeded, like a Pootmans amendment to have city hall commit to upgrading infrastructure alongside housing builds. Gondek, meanwhile, proposed finding a city-owned site and using it to set up temporary, transitional housing for families in dire straits. Councillor Sharp suggested that the city set up two such sites, which Gondek agreed with—and this was approved unanimously.
Other amendments failed, like Councillor Jennifer Wyness’s proposal to allow towers with no height restrictions right by LRT stations—both ones that are already built, and those that are slated to be built for the Green Line.
COUNCILLOR JENNIFER WYNESS: And we don’t need to think we’re different than other major cities. Let’s learn from their failures, and catch up, and do it. Vancouver is building high in its downtown core. Sunnyside is a prime location for high density housing, and we’re cutting it back because someone wants to live in a three-storey house or a townhouse. That’s not enough density for that area. It’s unfortunate, but that area needs to be high-rise apartment blocks.
KLASZUS: Here’s what Councillor Kourtney Penner had to say about that.
COUNCILLOR KOURTNEY PENNER: I think if we’re going to bring amendments forward, they need to be serious. They need to be based on policy. They need to be based on evidence. They don’t need to be sensationalist. So, I don’t support this.
That’s not enough density for that area. It’s unfortunate, but that area (Sunnyside) needs to be high-rise apartment blocks.
KLASZUS: Once the amendments were all done, council ultimately approved the housing strategy in a 12-3 vote, with Councillors Chu, McLean and Demong voting against.
But the rumble over rezoning is still to come, when new land use bylaws come to council for a public hearing and vote.
I want to end this episode by letting you hear for yourself what your council members said in the course of debating the housing strategy. We’re going to start with Mayor Gondek, followed by Councillors Peter Demong and Sonya Sharp.
This housing strategy is finally getting us caught up to where we need to be.
MAYOR JYOTI GONDEK: One of our biggest challenges over time has been the inability to view housing as a holistic portfolio. As a city, we have spent a very long time focused on subsidized housing only, and then we slowly crept into looking at the impacts of homelessness. All while we didn’t really focus at all on market-based housing. This housing strategy is finally getting us caught up to where we need to be.
COUNCILLOR PETER DEMONG: I don’t believe this is a made-in-Calgary problem, and I don’t believe this is going to get solved by a made-in-Calgary solution.... I believe the provincial and federal governments are abrogating their responsibility to build purpose-built rentals for affordable housing like they did in the '60s and '70s. They’re simply downloading yet another item for municipalities to deal with.
I’m not a man of many words, so I’m going to be brief. The vast majority of this plan, I’m all in favour of. As you know, I’ve got a problem with one item. My constituents have been extremely clear, they are—no, don’t use that adjective—they are adamant that they don’t want to be seeing, as a permitted use, the ability for a developer to build the equivalent of an eight unit apartment complex on almost any city lot. And I agree with them.
COUNCILLOR SONYA SHARP: We have heard from a lot of people on this. Overwhelmingly, the people I’ve heard from aren’t opposed to density. They aren’t opposed to affordable housing, and they aren’t opposed to the strategy. They just want their democratic right to have a say in front of their elected official. And I want to be clear—I’m not opposed to density. I believe we absolutely need more R-CG, and we need more approvals in zoning in Calgary. This is not a debate on goals. It’s about process. We can’t cut the public out of a process. A public hearing ensures the community voice is heard, and should not stop us from building more housing.
The provincial and federal governments are abrogating their responsibility to build purpose-built rentals for affordable housing.
COUNCILLOR KOURTNEY PENNER: The cognitive dissonance is outstanding. It has been demonstrated time and time again that this is part of a comprehensive solution. And if you are voting against this today, you are voting against the very things I hear consistently preached. Do more with less, cut red tape, keep taxes low, support and listen to citizens.
MAYOR GONDEK: And when you hear people say we are stripping people of their voice, and we are taking away their democratic process, the very reason we need to have this in our strategy is to allow administration to start a process to engage with the public. So, if we are going to deny administration the ability to start an engagement process—then followed by a full public hearing—then it’s the people who vote no to this that are actually denying the public their voice.
If you are voting against this today, you are voting against the very things I hear consistently preached: Do more with less, cut red tape, keep taxes low.
KLASZUS: Here’s Councillor Andre Chabot, followed by Councillors Gian-Carlo Carra, Dan McLean and Courtney Walcott.
COUNCILLOR ANDRE CHABOT: I can tell you, many of those folks who’ve sent me an email were afraid to come before council to voice their opinion, because of how they would be viewed by the public and by members of council. And frankly, I kind of share their concern. I can tell you that for many terms, I ran on the basis that I would oppose secondary suites because that’s what my community wanted. And each one of those times when I ran on that platform, I won with an overwhelming majority in my area. Now, my area has changed significantly, so I don’t necessarily have the same sense of the pulse of the community that I did for those terms. But I’m more than willing to go out there and engage with my community to get a better understanding on what their perception is on what they would like to see their community be for the future.
For example, we can’t make the argument that we’re losing value and spiking prices in the exact same measure.
COUNCILLOR GIAN-CARLO CARRA: Members of council and members of the public advocating a no vote of some or all of these measures, have to bring their A-game when it comes to making the argument why we shouldn’t accept the bylaws when they come. And we have to hear much, much better arguments than the arguments than the arguments that we’ve heard.
Arguments that will not wash are ones that ignore, misinterpret, equivocate fundamental principles of economics, or worse, the basic truth, blatantly contradict themselves in weird and obtuse ways. For example, we can’t make the argument that we’re losing value and spiking prices in the exact same measure. We can’t grant more rights to homeowners and strip homeowners of rights at the same time, or that we’re preventing pitting neighbours against each other by upholding a system that’s based on pitting neighbours against each other. Or that R-CG is too radical a change as well as not being significant enough to solve the problem.
COUNCILLOR DAN MCLEAN: Getting back to my residents, and what I’ve heard from other people, there’re just some things that they don’t support. And I’ve listed some percentages before, and the biggest one that we all know, is the blanket upzoning or parking minimums. If I really, really thought that those two policies were going to make homes more affordable, I would be all in on this, a hundred percent. Because there are so many things that I do support.
COUNCILLOR WALCOTT: Anyone who is concerned about their constituents, I want to remind them of what our job is. Our code of conduct does not say: Do what our constituents want us to do. It does not say: Do what those who voted for us want us to do. It says: Do what is in the best interest of the city. That is our job. So, even if it means going home to our wards, and we’re having a very difficult conversation, we have to act in the best interest of the city. And I believe that is what we are doing today, even if when we leave this room it’s going to be uncomfortable.
Anyone who is concerned about their constituents, I want to remind them of what our job is.
KLASZUS: Councillor Evan Spencer talked about the ancient Jewish practice of a Jubilee year.
COUNCILLOR EVAN SPENCER: The way they structured their society, they had this year of Jubilee where every seven years, they would reset the homeownership, the property ownership deck, so that you didn’t end up with generational inequalities years over years over years, and getting worse and worse, and all the conflict and the consternation that comes with that. Well, this yes for me is very easy, because today feels like a little micro Jubilee. We’re resetting some of the economic inequality that exists in this city with policy. And I have zero hesitation on that front. We should be spending money on this. We should be knocking down barriers on this.
COUNCILLOR JASMINE MIAN: The last couple of days have been really fascinating to me. We need a lot more spaces for people to live, and this taskforce has recommended that we implement some of the gentlest forms of density that are seen all around the world. Over the last number of days, I have watched economists argue against the law of supply and demand, climate activists argue for sprawl, a DEI expert argue against inclusion, and a lawyer argue that lawmakers can’t make laws—all so that their neighbour cannot make anything other than a single-family home next to their single-family home....
Colleagues, the people that elected us have preferences, and they have needs. Preferences are important, and we should absolutely try to do what people prefer when we can. But we cannot allow the preferences of some constituents for things like shadowing and parking to prevent others from having a roof over their head.... Base R-CG— which is the most contentious thing in this whole plan if we even get to a public hearing on it—gets us max, like 1,500 units a year. And people are calling it a nuclear option. We need about 50,000 new homes, like minimum, if we’re going to absorb that type of growth that we’re expected to see over the next number of years.
I’m not asking us to start winning this battle. Let’s just stop failing so badly.
And so, people will say, okay, great, let’s not do it then. It’s not a silver bullet solution. Some people are going to be really mad about it, so let’s not even have the conversation. But that’s exactly why we’re in the problem we’re in, because we need to pull every possible lever that we can. And we need all levels of government to pull them, because there’s no single policy solution that’s going to solve the housing crisis. It’s the systematic and collective failure to make small and incremental changes, over years and years, that have led us to this point.
And with all respect to the taskforce and to admin, this strategy is like taking a glass of water, dipping it into an Olympic-size swimming pool, and instead of accepting that strategy and asking how we fill that glass back up again, we have spent the entire morning arguing over drops. And so, at the risk of sounding horribly pessimistic, after some of my colleagues have said some very inspiring things, I’m not asking us to start winning this battle. Let’s just stop failing so badly.
Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.