Calgary Punishes Its Poor 

July 1st, 2014 | R. Rados 

It all starts with Calgary's regressive anti-growth policies. Then it extends to the city of Calgary evicting residents from 173 mobile homes and causing a fuss about the conversion of a bankrupt hotel into 120 affordable housing units. This is how Calgary has chosen to treat its less fortunate citizens and it's anything but admirable.

Restricting Growth

The 10th edition of the Demographia Housing Affordability Survey concludes that the restrictive policies of major urban areas, like Toronto and Calgary, are creating a housing crisis and driving prices to unaffordable levels. The director of the U of C's School Of Public Policy also acknowledged that the city's attempt to curb development is causing house prices to rise. These prices are rising at a faster rate than national salaries. In May, Jay Westman also argued that Calgary's policies are causing a crisis.

Restricting suburban growth isn't a new idea. It has been on Calgary council's radar for quite some time. Unfortunately, Calgary's vacancy rate is below 2%, driving the city's average rental price for a single bedroom unit to more than $1300. As the city chokes new development, Calgary's low income residents can expect to pay even more in the future.

Calgary isn't expected to stop growing anytime soon. As new residents from across Canada continue to flow in, low income residents won't be able to compete. Most of the city's new residents have higher qualifications and were brought to Calgary by opportunities made available by their expensive degrees. No matter how hard Calgary tries to minimize its own sprawl, it won't succeed. The city's resistance to expansion will only hurt its less fortunate residents.

Those who argue that this is the result of a free market need to consider the facts. Calgary's housing market isn't free. It's being choked by the same regressive policies that are leaving Calgary's low income earners with the most to lose.

Kicking Residents Out Of A Trailer Park, But Saving A Golf Course

Gian-Carlo Carra's words said it all when he told media, “And this is a valuable piece of inner city land.” City officials claim that Calgary can't afford to fix Midfield's water lines and plumbing. However, the city can afford to pay more than $20,000 per mobile home to help the residents vacate. Each resident will be given a package of up to $20,000 plus counselling. With 173 mobile homes, that brings the city's total to roughly $3,460,000. After a $25,000,000 pedestrian bridge, a $500,000 single piece of public artwork, and a $9,000,000 trial bike network, it's difficult to digest the city's reluctance to fix a few water lines.

All mobile home parks in and around Calgary are currently full. But Carra assured Midfield's senior residents that they shouldn't worry, because Calgary would have more mobile home parks in the future. Carra also assured Midfield's elderly residents that there would be more affordable housing opportunities available in three years. As the CBC notes, plans for a future mobile home park on 84 Street NE have been scrapped and there aren't many known plans currently in the works.

So far, city officials deny any major plans for this “valuable piece of inner city land”, but the residents aren't buying it. Naheed Nenshi himself has denied allegations from residents that the city is planning to sell Midfield to wealthy developers. It's unlikely that Midfield park will sit vacant after 2017, but that didn't stop Nenshi from deflecting and deferring to his usual rhetoric. Sadly, Midfield residents won't know if Naheed Nenshi was telling the truth until they're gone.

Just when you think the city of Calgary can still have even a small ounce of integrity or empathy left, news breaks about Calgary's McCall Lake Golf Course. At the end of June, city officials recommended saving the city's McCall Lake Golf Course. “This is actually a pretty good municipal golf course,” a golfer told Global News. Now, it's likely that the city will choose to save a golf course that runs a deficit and is estimated to have $6,700,000 worth of repairs, but forget about the residents of Midfield.

Gentrifying Poor Neighbourhoods

To make matters worse, during the 2013 municipal election, Naheed Nenshi promised to back a redevelopment plan for one of Calgary's poorest neighbourhoods. To most people, redeveloping Forest Lawn sounds like a great idea. However, making Calgary even less affordable is one consequence of gentrifying too many low income neighbourhoods. At the end of the day, citizens who don't own homes need affordable places to live. Increasing property values in and around Forest Lawn will take away more options for low income residents. Public funding and councillor endorsements would make the prospect of such a redevelopment plan even more painful.

Condemning Affordable Housing

Naheed Nenshi expressed some anguish over the fact that the Calgary Drop-in And Rehab Centre didn't consult with council – or more importantly, with him – about turning an old hotel into an affordable housing complex. Nenshi also bemoaned the Drop-In Centre's preference to skip meeting with city and community officials in favour of going straight to permit.

Truthfully, city officials in Calgary have done nothing to ease housing costs in Calgary. With almost every professional blaming city policies for skyrocketing housing prices, the Drop-In Centre should be lauded for their leadership. Instead, their development plans were condemned by arrogant bureaucrats, including Alberta's Minister Of Municipal Affairs, who later pulled the Drop-In Centre's $5 million grant.  

Of course, few property owners want a low income, transitional housing complex in their neighbourhood. However, most homeowners don't want hotels in their backyards either. If we go back in time to when the hotel was a Quality Inn, we actually see the hotel as a haven for drugs, prostitution, and undesirable guests. Due to its affordability, the former hotel in question was nothing worth cherishing. When it went bankrupt, the Drop-In Centre purchased the hotel for $8,000,000. During Calgary's flood, the building was used to shelter 800 of the city's homeless.

Today, amid mobile home evictions, extravagant public art spending, misguided gentrification plans and intentionally inflated housing prices, the city isn't willing to give up an old hotel to help hundreds of less fortunate residents get off their feet.

It's been made very clear that the hotel won't be turned into a homeless shelter, but rather a transitional housing complex intended to temporarily support residents. All of the residents will have to pay rent as they transition into a more sustainable, self sufficient lifestyle. Unlike safe injection sites and vending machines that dispense crack pipes, the Drop-In Centre's plan is valuable and genuinely progressive.

Naheed Nenshi and city councillors will try to convince Calgarians that they're defending the community and the concerns of those living near the old Quality Inn, but judging by what we've seen so far, it's clear how absent they've been when it comes to defending other communities. Either Nenshi and city officials are using blatant prejudice to select which communities to defend, or there is another, equally disdainful reason behind their resistance to the Drop-In Centre's plan.

Causing Crises

Calgary's intentions toward its less fortunate citizens have been made clear through its actions. Naheed Nenshi's bizarre war against homebuilders during the 2013 municipal election seems even more perplexing when we look at the mayor's recent position on affordable housing and mobile home parks. How can a city justify restricting suburban development while evicting low income residents and condemning transitional housing? Calgary's housing prices have surpassed Canada's national average, forcing the city's low income residents into a dangerous predicament. Calgary's policies don't stand up to any mathematical or economic logic whatsoever, but councillors like Gian-Carlo Carra continue to back policies that can only be described as asinine. What makes all of this even more disturbing is the inaction and lack of concern expressed by most Calgarians.

What happened to the generosity and community involvement we saw during the 2013 flood? Thousands of Calgarians were displaced, but thousands more showed up to help. Is the number of displaced residents not high enough this time? Do numbers really make that big of a difference when it comes to helping individuals during a crisis? After all, it's not an uncontrollable force of nature displacing Calgarians this time, it's the actions of city officials. 

It's time for Calgarians to get it together and start standing up to city officials in a big way. It's time to put down your remotes and do something meaningful.