News story after news story are coming out and pointing out how Calgary is experiencing a crunch in housing supply that will only get worse if things do not change and soon. Calgary’s rental vacancy rate is sitting around 1% right now and the average price of a home is expected to reach almost $600,000 this year. This problem will only grow more acute in coming years unless our density fixated city hall starts to release more serviced lots and soon!
Yes, there are some other ways to increase some supply of housing. Nenshi has had the legalization of basement suites as something of a pet project for some time though it has not been able to pass council yet. More basement suites will help to some degree should they be added but what Calgary really needs is new housing and soon. Changing the status of the legality of basement suites will only add a limited supply as there really are only so many people out there who want to rent out part of their houses. Many of those who do want to rent out their basements are already doing so illegally.
Like the law of gravity, the law of supply and demand is not terribly flexible. Calgary has high demand for housing and city hall has been strangling the supply. Something will have to give. Some reports are even predicting that Calgary may be nearly running out of serviced lots by the end of 2015. As stated in the article, there is a world of difference between planned lots and available ones. The city needs to stop meddling around and release these new developments.
There is an ideology that has become prevalent in Calgary city hall that almost fervently calls for increased urban density at all costs. That sort of ideology led to the hiring of planning extremists like Rollin Stanley. Despite squeezing supply in hopes that Calgarians simply throw up their hands and move into condos, developments such as the much vaunted “East Village” wither while the vast majority of new Calgarians seek homes in the suburbs.
It seems to be forgotten that over 85% of Calgarians do NOT live or commute downtown. To try and force more population into the core will actually make commute times longer for many as they head to industrial areas, schools, hospitals or one of the myriad of other employment zones that are distant from downtown. We need to plan and develop with this reality in mind.
The bottom line is that Calgary does not need extremely high downtown density. The city is surrounded by literally thousands of square miles of available land. Calgary is not like a coastal or mountain city with hard limits on where it may grow. There is no excuse or good reason to keep trying to hinder the natural outward growth of the city.
Finally, density efforts have been an utter failure that has actually led to even more of the ever demonized “sprawl” anyway. People are voting with their wallets and feet and are moving to bedroom communities in record numbers. Okotoks lifted it’s growth cap, Chestermere has just put forward a massive new growth plan and Airdrie and Cochrane are experiencing explosive growth. Despite what some may wish, Calgary can’t put up an iron curtain to keep people from leaving the city limits to escape the escalating costs due to a lack of land supply.
If the powers that be in Calgary City Hall truly do want to address the shortage of affordable housing, it is simply without question that more serviced lots and developments must be approved and as soon as possible. How critical will Nenshi and City Hall let this problem get before they relent, face reality and begin to release the supply of land that Calgarians are demanding? We have the space, let’s use it!