Mayor outlines concerns over lack of affordable housing

Mayor Naheed Nenshi may display the comic acuity of Fozzie Bear but between zinging his staff and hosts during his annual address to the Calgary Rotary Club he did share some valuable perspectives on the state of the city good and bad.

During the February 18 speech at the Fairmont Palliser he told Rotarians the most serious issue facing Calgarians today is the shortage of affordable housing. The problem is by no means new but Nenshi said it is getting worse every day; “it keeps me up at night.”

He cited recent Calgary Real Estate Board statistics for Calgary’s housing market that put the average price of a new single family home at $575000 — a 228 per cent increase over the past 10 years — and the rental vacancy rate at less than one per cent.

“The sobering reality is this is unsustainable and it’s unacceptable. Every Calgarian deserves a safe decent place to live” he said. He calls the situation a market failure “in that we are not building enough units at the market-entry level and in rental housing. The result of that is if you can’t afford market rent you’re going to need subsidized housing you move into government housing or non-profit provided housing and for those that really need the non-profit or government housing [they] have nowhere to go and they clog up the homeless shelters…. I wish I had the solutions; I don’t.”

Nenshi said he still believes legalizing secondary suites will improve the rental market situation and called on councillors and Calgarians to support the idea. He also says “a dozen” new residential rental towers are expected to be built within the next few years. He says the effect of that on the rental market will be a noticeable improvement since Calgary saw only three new rental apartment buildings constructed in the past 25 years.

The mayor also touched on the importance of the 2013 flood new transit plans and efforts to cut red tape through the Transforming Planning project.

He noted the expanded public transportation system will include a 25 per cent increase in capacity “game-changing” busways in all four quadrants of the city and more comfortable seats in LRT cars.