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All talk and no leadership on affordable housing
Saturday, 12 December 2015 - 1:30pm
The City of Calgary’s new housing affordability strategy is a failure of leadership and imagination.
Two years in the making, the self-styled Community Housing Affordability Collective recently delivered a 46-page draft strategy calling for “Calgary-based solutions,” “blueprints for action” and “support and integration.”
If you’re looking for buzzwords, then you’ll find 13,000 of them. But if you were looking for a plan, you won’t find one.
The self-congratulatory tone is deafening. You have to get through 16 pages celebrating the “incredible amount of work completed by all of the stakeholders in the housing community,” their “intense collaboration and trust building” and “collective vision,“ before real Calgarians in need are even discussed.
This “New Approach for Calgary’s Housing System” provides few meaningful actions or ways to measure progress. Surprisingly, this was not an oversight, but by design: “in the evolution of the development of our strategy, we have made a conscious decision to move away from goals that define specific numbers.”
If not the 3,500 homeless Calgarians on any given night, then who?
Despite the urgency, the document is neither time-bound, nor specific enough to be realistic. Measurable goals create accountability. But this report is the opposite of accountable. Confusingly, the report says that “a focus on the ‘when’ limits the commitment, does not allow the time required to build trust and collaboration, and prevents true change.”
If not now, then when?
Either talk is cheap at City Hall these days, or councillors are getting paid for every word.
In some ways, this is a plan in search of a plan, just as we’re a city in search of leadership. A more generous read would be that it says something that all Calgarians already know: there’s a problem, and we should work together.
In modern society, working together is the default starting position, rather than the end goal. It would be funny, if it were not so sad, that it took council 18 months to discover that.
Having a roof over your head is not ideological. It’s a matter of human dignity. Sadly, we have a mayor and council who at best are content with doing nothing, and at worst are using housing to score political points. Meanwhile, one in 10 households are in core housing need, spending more than half of their income on shelter.
Progressives on council style themselves as champions of diversity, so long as it looks like what central planners agree upon. They conveniently ignore that housing has both a supply and demand element, and restrict that supply while using the demand to pander to their base.
In fairness, some say a lot of the right things, like “sustainability” and “equity.” But in just seven years, council has pushed through compounded residential tax rate increases of 55 per cent, and business tax rate increases of an astounding 180 per cent. How is that sustainable? Property taxes especially shift the burden to those with the least ability to pay. How is that equitable?
Conservatives also deserve blame. They pander just as much with language like “market choice,” yet are keen to pick winners and losers in private business by thwarting more affordable mobility options, such as Uber. Most support property rights and organic growth, yet consistently reject paths to creating more legal, safer secondary suites.
Fiscal hawks have also failed to champion housing like they should, if for no other reason that the numbers add up. It costs $55,000 a year to shelter and support a homeless person, but only $21,000 a year to provide a home.
Calgary needs a housing affordability strategy. Instead, we got another fancy binder that will collect dust on the shelf. After two years of talking, the city owed us a vision and a plan. We got neither.
Jeromy Farkas is a research fellow at the Manning Centre, and creator of www.counciltracker.ca.
This column was published by the Calgary Herald on December 12, 2015