Breakenridge: If not rezoning, then what? City still needs to solve issue of housing

The city is at the mercy of the province’s push to lure more people here as well as the federal government’s aggressive immigration targets

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While much has been made — and will very much still be made — about the manner in which Calgary city council decided on blanket rezoning, it’s important not to lose sight of what made this such a pressing matter in the first place.

Based on the feedback at Calgary’s record-setting public hearing, it’s apparent that rezoning was not the preferred course of action. And, in fairness, there were some reasonable objections put forward. But surely it can’t just be a simple question of yes or no on rezoning. The question should be: if not this, then what? Because something bold and dramatic is necessary.

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The latest population data from Statistics Canada help to underscore the seriousness of the situation. In 2023, Calgary’s population grew by an astonishing six per cent — a faster rate than any other major city, and third overall among all metropolitan areas. To put that in greater perspective, since the turn of the century, the closest Calgary has come to that rate of growth was the 3.5 per cent increase recorded back in 2006.

Even if one disagrees with the city’s housing policy direction, let’s also remember that the city can’t control population increases. Arguably a growing city is a much better problem to have than that of a shrinking population, but this is a tremendous amount of growth to handle. If supply and demand are already out of balance, that’s only going to deteriorate further without big changes on the supply front.

The city is at the mercy of the province’s push to lure more people here as well as the federal government’s aggressive immigration targets. Indeed, Alberta’s (and Calgary’s) overall population growth is a combination of immigrants choosing to settle here as well as a considerable amount of interprovincial migration.

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Even if the feds were to tap the brakes on immigration (which they might ultimately have to do), there’s still the choice that each resident in Canada has about where to live. Overwhelmingly, those looking for somewhere new to live are coming here. Of Calgary’s population increase last year, over 26,000 was due to interprovincial migration. Edmonton was a more distant second place with just over 16,000 and the third-largest beneficiary was Halifax way back at just over 3,400. Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon all lost population to other parts of the country.

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And everyone who comes here will start their journey by trying to find a place to live. If supply can’t keep up with demand, then the results are predictable. The latest data on average monthly rents shows an eight per cent year-over-year increase, while statistics from the Calgary Real Estate Board show that the median sale price for a single-detached home rose over 13 per cent year-over-year.

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As the federal Conservative leader pointed out in a video last week, if there’s more demand than supply prices are going to spike, regardless of what sort of policy is in place to try and assist would-be buyers and renters. This is very likely the next prime minister of the country, and he expects that cities will incentivize construction. Perhaps dwelling too much on the current prime minister is a bit of a distraction, then.

There are different ways of solving this problem. Calgary can’t just focus on density, and in fairness, city council is poised to approve the creation of four new communities.

As the Business Council of Alberta noted last week, it will be crucial for our economy to keep up with this growing population — and that starts with housing. While many property owners won’t mind sharp increases in the value of their asset, we will be worse off if we don’t address the matter with a sense of urgency.

Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge airs weekdays from 12:30-3 pm on QR Calgary (770AM / 107.3FM)

[email protected]

X: @RobBreakenridge

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