Episode 23: Changing the Conversation on Housing

2 February 2024

In this episode of Let’s Talk Poverty, Jaclyn Silbernagel connects with Inam Teja, a local advocate and policy expert working to shape the way we think about housing, homelessness and city-building in Calgary.

Published 2 February 2024

Updated 2 February 2024

In this episode of Let’s Talk Poverty, Jaclyn Silbernagel connects with Inam Teja, a local advocate and policy expert working to shape the way we think about housing, homelessness and city-building in Calgary. 

In this episode 

  • Learn about how the homeless serving sector is seeing with the current affordable housing crisis and the large number of households (40,000) at extreme risk of becoming unhoused in Calgary. Why city-wide zoning is needed, how it applies to Calgary, common misconceptions and how it’s not a “silver bullet” in addressing the housing crisis. 
  • Insight into jurisdictions where zoning changes have made a difference in creating more affordable housing and which Canadian municipalities have implemented it.  

Three key takeaways 

  • Calgary’s traditional answer to meeting housing need has been sprawl – or building single family homes on the edges of the city. But, sprawl has pitfalls from access to services and infrastructure to environmental implications.  
  • Rezoning allows for building where there is already existing infrastructure which studies show is more cost effective than building on new land. 
  • When new housing is built, even if it is luxury housing, it has downstream impacts to lower-income households. A study indicates that one extra house can enable 3.7 “moves up,” including for those with incomes below the national median. 

About Inam Teja 

Inam is a proud Calgarian focused on solving Calgary's housing crisis. Having completed his master's degree in public policy at the University of Oxford, Inam is applying his skills to shape the way we think about housing, homelessness, and city-building in Calgary.   

As the Policy and Advocacy Specialist at the Calgary Drop-In Centre, Inam works to build research, partnerships, and engagement around systemic solutions to the housing challenges facing Calgary. Outside of work, Inam is a board member of More Neighbours Calgary, a pro-housing advocacy organization, and he serves as the vice president of the Coach Hill Patterson Heights Community Association. 

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Transcript of the episode:


Welcome to Let's Talk Poverty, the podcast that helps you understand poverty in Calgary through the lens of Enough for All. It tackles the stigma surrounding poverty, challenging biases and assumptions. From the voices of lived experience to community members, to highlighting raw data. We speak with subject matter and policy experts, community leaders and you to explore the root causes of poverty in our city and how we can come together to make changes that matter. 

Let's talk poverty is recorded in Treaty Seven, the lands of the Blackfoot nations, the Siksika, the Piikani and the Kainai. We also acknowledge the Tsuut’ina and Stony Nakoda First nations and the Metis Nation of Alberta, Districts 5 and 6.  


Welcome to Let's Talk Poverty. I'm Jaclyn Silbernagel and I'm joined today by Inam Teja, policy and advocacy specialist with the Calgary Drop In and Rehabilitation Center. He's an advocate and activist working to shape the way we think about housing, homelessness and city building in Calgary. Inam, welcome to Let's Talk Poverty.  


Thanks so much for having me, Jaclyn. 


So good to have you. To start off, I'm just wondering if you can help our listeners understand maybe some of your interest in affordable housing.I know we heard from you publicly at the public hearings in September about housing and some of your personal experiences. And I know you have a bit of a background with your education and things, so can you tell our listeners a bit more about your interest in affordable housing? 


Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, I'm someone who's trying to eventually get housing. I currently live in my parents’ basement because if I ever want to own a home, that’s what I need to do in order to save up is to not pay the ridiculous rents in Calgary. And I'm lucky enough that I get to have the privilege of doing that. But I have many friends, many people who I see on a regular basis who don't have that privilege. Housing is so fundamental, it's really foundational to all these other aspects of your quality of life. 

If you don't have housing, your health suffers. If you don't have housing, it's really hard to maintain employment. If you don't have housing getting a healthy, functioning social group can be a challenge. And so housing, foundational for me personally, but foundational for everyone. That's kind of why I decided to study housing policy. 

And so, I did my Master's in Public Policy and I kind of did a concentration on housing policy and looking at housing affordability and the policy tools that decision makers have at their disposal to make housing more affordable for everyone.  


Thank you for sharing that. Yeah, I think I just saw an article yesterday about people utilizing campgrounds actually, and purchasing trailers because rents had become really extreme, I think out in the Okotoks area. So yeah, it's definitely showing up for people in a lot of different ways. I know part of this conversation about affordable housing is that a lot of people maybe are on that tipping point of just lacking affordability. 

And so, VCC recently published a study that was done by the University of Calgary School of Public Policy. And it says about 115,000 people and 40,000 households are at extreme risk of becoming unhoused in our city. As someone who works in the homeless serving sector, can you tell us about what you're seeing and maybe some of more of those stories? 


Yeah, those numbers that you cited are unfortunately not shocking for me because I see it every day. What we're seeing is a higher shelter utilization rate year over year. There are more people accessing emergency shelter at the Drop In Center. And paired with that increase of people coming into the shelter, we're also seeing a decrease in our ability to get people into a permanent housing situation. 

And so at the DI we try and make homelessness as brief as possible. And so we're constantly moving people who come through our doors into a permanent housing. And that's become much, much harder because there's a lack of availability of affordable housing in our city. And so there's a really big imbalance right now between the inflows and the outflows of people coming to the DI.  


Yeah, the needs are high I think in our city all around related to affordable housing and I think there's understandably tension about these things. It's uncomfortable I think to see what's happening in our city and what the impacts are on any of us depending on where we're at and what our situation is. And I know a big part of the City of Calgary strategy is obviously to engage people in some of the actions from the recommendations that were provided in the housing strategy that was approved in September. And as they're kind of embarking I guess on the latest round of engagement which is really around zoning coming up in April here. Can you maybe help explain what's happening in terms of that engagement and maybe what citywide zoning is?  


Yeah, absolutely. This is the kind of stuff that I love to talk about, these kind of policy details. And so you're absolutely correct, the city right now is looking at following through on the housing strategy that was passed in September in order to colloquially upzone the city. In city language, it's talking about amending land use. And so your land use generally dictates what you can use your land for, so be that anything - commercial use, industrial use, residential use, mixed use. It also dictates the kind of residential use that you can have. So in Calgary right now, we're talking about changing kind of our base residential uses, which you'll hear people call that RC1, RC2 or R1, R2, and these are parcels that are previously zoned for either single detached or kind of semidetached duplexes. 

And the proposal to council is to upzone, which is to convert those zoning designations and all the parcels that are zoned under those designations to RCG or RG. And that's kind of residential, contextual, ground level or ground oriented. And we can get into some of the details, but the upshot of all of this is that the City is trying to allow for more units of housing to be built on residential plots of land. 


Yeah, I appreciate you kind of breaking that down a little bit. I think the jargon can somewhat sometimes be a barrier. And so we have terms like upzoning or ending exclusionary zoning or things like that, and sometimes things are used interchangeably, so it gets a bit confusing. But it really is what you said about having a plot of land and having more options in terms of the type of housing that can be built on that. 


Absolutely. And so RCG isn't going to allow office towers to be built on a residential plot of land. It's not even going to allow residential towers to be built on a plot of land. What it allows for is up to four kind of primary units plus four accessory dwelling units. So think of a row house with four entrances and maybe four basement suites, and that would be the maximum allowed. And under RCG it still has to be contextual. And so that would still need to fit within the context of the neighborhood it's going into. And everything zoned for RCG doesn't get rid of the current processes in place for development permits and building permits, which is the nitty gritty details of understanding whether the architecture of this building fits, whether this new residential building actually has what it needs to in order to fit into this neighborhood. So building permits and development permit processes will still be in place with this. It's just simply allowing for that more choice, like you said.  


So there's still additional steps that people would have to go through and communities would still have to be engaged about.  


Exactly. Exactly. 


I know there seems to be a lot of debate, and not just in Calgary, across our country about what rezoning looks like and why it's important maybe for a city. So for Calgary, how can you help our listeners think about why it might be important for Calgary to really address housing affordability and why this might be one of those steps?  


Absolutely. This is a great question. It's kind of a multi-parter because housing policy is not always the most straightforward. 

So I guess to answer this, let's first understand how we got into the housing crisis, right. So we're at a point in our city's growth where housing demand is skyrocketing. There are more people than ever working from home. Family sizes are shrinking, we have a surge in immigration. 

There's a whole confluence of factors that are kind of leading to this really big increase in demand of housing. And we don't actually have enough houses to go around. And you kind of see the evidence of this in what I like to think of as like repressed demand. 

 And so thinking about how myself, I'm living in my parents basement, despite that not being my first choice, and so many other people who are kind of in these situations where they are not in the market because there's just not enough supply for them. And so the first step to understanding how zoning will make housing affordable is to understand that we are in a supply crunch. 

We do need more housing. Calgary's traditional answer, and this is kind of the status quo answer to supply crunches in our history, has been to sprawl. And that is this idea of kind of building these mostly homogeneous, single, detached home communities at the edge of our city. 

And this has worked for us in the past in a sense that we haven't turned into a Toronto or a Vancouver because we've had the area to be able to sprawl. But this sprawling is not a sustainable solution for us. When you have a sprawling community, it really prevents that geographic critical mass of people that is required for the services to service that community. 

And so from like a fiscal standpoint, you're now building these communities at the edge of the city that require all this new infrastructure. They need new roads, they need new utilities, they need new water and sewer hookups. And they're properties at the edge of the city that don't have the kind of property tax coming in to support all of these new utilities. 

So from a fiscal standpoint, this sprawl doesn't make sense. It also prevents that geographic critical mass to justify high quality transit options because you just have a bunch of single family homes that you don't have that high number of people that density required to put a regular bus route. 

And then there's also the environmental cost of sprawl, right? When you have sprawling communities that are not serviced by transit, huge number of two car owning families are there and you need to drive everywhere. So transportation emissions are way up and it's also the environmental cost of kind of encroaching on the land surrounding our city. 

There was a recent report from, I think it's the Place Center that highlighted that Calgary sprawl has caused us to lose, has sprawled into like wetlands more than any other city in Canada. And so we're actually losing these critical environmental regions surrounding our city because of this sprawl. 

And so there's the fiscal reasons why this doesn't make sense. There's the environmental reasons why this doesn't make sense. And there's also the affordability reasons why this doesn't make sense. Because these sprawling communities pretty much only have one, maybe two types of housing, and it's the single detached home, and occasionally you'll get the duplex or the home with the basement suite. And so there's a really limited choice in housing types with this sprawl approach. So that's kind of an overview of why our current approach isn't working.  

Back to your main question of why zoning is an important step to take for increasing housing affordability. 

I mean, number one is density. Let's build where there's already infrastructure, where there's already services. Most neighborhoods in Calgary are actually not at their peak in terms of population. We've seen a decline in many neighborhoods in terms of population. So the infrastructure is there to support more people living in most neighborhoods in Calgary. 

So from a fiscal standpoint, that makes sense. If we're talking about environmental impact, if we're building transit oriented development, if we're densifying places that are already connected through an A5 system or pathways, excellent. That's reducing the amount of emissions. And then the main question is the affordability. 

And so when you think about the kinds of housing that this zoning bylaw would allow, more row houses, more kind of accessory dwelling suites, you see such a big difference in the price. And so the City of Calgary has kind of calculated the median value of new builds per zoning district in Calgary. 

So from 2018 to 2023, this is the data. The average new single detached home costs 1.64 million to purchase. The semidetached home costs about $900,000 to purchase, and row houses cost just under $600,000 to purchase. And so when thinking about the types of housing that we need, types of housing that are enabled by this RCG, this upzoning change, if you will, it enables a lot more of this affordable housing to be built and that trickles down into the rental market. That just means we have all of these houses that are at a different price point from what new houses have traditionally been in our city.  


Yeah. And ultimately that supply, I guess, would ideally lower costs, uh, for all people in terms of making it more affordable for our city. 


Yeah. There's that power imbalance that happens with, you have a landlord that has 30 people applying to live in that one unit. They can kind of pick and choose who do they think is the most willing to pay a higher rent. They can kind of do some discriminating around the margins, around what kind of renters they want, and it's often the people who are most vulnerable get the short end of the stick when there's such limited supply. And when you have options, that's when the landlords are now more competing for the tenants and, oh, I need to find a tenant to fill my place rather than the other way around. 


When we think about environmental impacts and things like that with the sprawl, do you feel like there's an equal concern around environmental impacts generally, with the increase of our population? Do you know what I mean? Is there a correlation or an equal concern that no matter what the housing is, is the environmental piece really a focal point of the housing conversation at this point?  Inam: 

I don't think that enough people are paying attention to the way that affordability and climate justice can go hand in hand. I think that oftentimes climate change and climate justice is posed as a dichotomy with economic issues and affordability issues. People will say, oh, why are you working on affordability? We need to be focusing on climate. Or this is the climate versus economy stuff that you see surveyed about and what's the most important issue? And really this kind of affordability, I guess if you call it an affordability initiative, it really does have great positive climate impacts. And if you want to say this kind of climate initiative, it has great affordability impacts. 

And so whichever way you approach it, they're not mutually exclusive. It's a bit of a false dichotomy that I think a lot of people buy into as this economy and affordability versus the environment and climate justice. 


I appreciate those thoughts on that. Can you talk a little bit more about maybe what you're seeing in other jurisdictions in Canada or elsewhere that have maybe been implementing some zoning changes I'm not super familiar with, uh, what's going on in other jurisdictions necessarily so can you share some of things that you know about that?  


Yeah, absolutely. I think there's often this kind of questioning of is there enough evidence to support this? Or how do you say that this is going to actually work? You'll hear a lot of people, I'm sure, over the coming months really be like, where's the evidence? Show me the proof. And I think we do have a pretty strong base of evidence for this. Theoretically speaking, how does zoning get more housing built? It reduces the approval process and it allows for different types of housing. The typical land use change in the City of Calgary takes about eight months to do, and so that's a huge piece of red tape, a huge barrier to developers and to property owners who are looking to build more housing. That period of time, eight months is a long time for someone to be waiting on approval that should be common sense because 95% of these zoning changes under the current system already get approved. 

Theoretically, you can see how that time makes a big difference and then in action you can see it. Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, all these cities have implemented a similar, a comparable upzoning change in the last couple of years. And it's a bit too early to see any major impact from these cities, but there's some promising information. 

Maybe Edmonton is probably the most comparable to us. And so what they've seen is year over year, 2022 to 2023, um, a 168% increase in housing starts for units that are not single detached. So anything excluding a single detached home, you've seen a massive jump in the number of construction started. So there's a real good connection that we can make here between, okay, they made that change last year and now they are seeing this start on construction to address the supply crunch. And so Edmonton, I haven't seen any academic studies come out yet because it hasn't even been a year, but you do see that this is starting to have an impact already.  

The other places that have really high quality academic impacts mapped that will be typically pointed to are Minneapolis. And you know, those have a really kind of strong body of evidence for the impact that a zoning change has had both on supply and on affordability in both of those jurisdictions.  


Oh, interesting. So how do communities, are you aware of how communities responded? Like, was it a similar process of just challenged by change and the implications of change. But was there a vibrancy that came out of those changes in terms of how communities operated with that change? 


Yeah, I mean, I think change is hard. No matter where you are, it's tough to be able to look around you and see what you're so comfortable with, where you grew up, where you raised your kids maybe is not what it once was. That's a difficult thing to grapple with. And I'm certainly sympathetic to people who are really concerned by that. And you know, I don't necessarily know personally any stories from Minneapolis or Auckland, but I can speak from Calgary's perspective because there have been these zoning changes happened in certain neighborhoods in Calgary already.  

RCG is not a new zoning designation, it's one that's kind of come up, I think it was 2014 was when we started to zone things as RCG. And you can kind of see some really excellent neighborhoods that have evolved because they are having mixed housing types. It's really excellent when you can have an apartment building that's not too far from the single detached home and maybe this is where you raised your family and you're looking to downsize, and you can downsize without leaving your social connections. You can live in that apartment building with the elevator so you don't have to go up and down the stairs if that becomes a challenge for you.But you're still in that community, you still get to see your favorite restaurants, see all your friends, maybe live close to your children. And so having that choice can really empower people.  

I know a story of a family that was going through a divorce and splitting up, and so they needed to have two smaller households now, but they wanted their kids to go to the same school, they wanted them to still have that access to their same friends around the playground and they luckily had the option to move into kind of smaller row houses in the same community. And so things like that, stories like that are like, oh, okay, maybe allowing for more choice for people allows for my neighborhood to be more flexible to my needs if and when they change. 


Mhm. Just kind of fitting to different people's circumstances, like you said, as the need arises. I'm curious, sometimes I feel like there's some partisan lines drawn. Is this a partisan issue?  


I think that every single kind of party in Canada, in Alberta, has policy tools that are within their ideological framework that can really impact this issue. 

If, if you're thinking from a, uh, fiscally responsible perspective and you want to make sure that everything is done in a manner that is efficient, then we talked about how sprawl is pretty fiscally irresponsible. If you want a smaller government, then let's cut this red tape. Why are we infringing on individual property rights on what you can and can't build on your own land? That's a very free market principle that we've kind of eroded. And so from that side, you can clearly see the case for why allowing the market to respond to demand is a no brainer.  

And then from the flip side, if you're really focused on the arguments around equity and affordability and environment and climate change, you can see how what we're doing doesn't work. What we're doing is creating more emissions. What we're doing is not providing people affordable options, and we're really concentrating power in the hands of those who already have housing. And so these kinds of measures, things like upzoning, things like building affordable housing, has really important equity and environmental justice impacts. 

And so you can really see why it's appealing to anyone on the political scale to build these kinds of housing and to allow for these housing units to be built.  


I'm curious about maybe other misconceptions that you've come across. I think we heard from a variety of different folks, particularly in September when this went to council for the recommendations, and there were some people who legitimately feared that a bulldozer was showing up tomorrow and was going to knock down their home and it was going to fundamentally change their community. So I'm just curious if there's other misconceptions that you can help, maybe debunk or talk through, just to help build a better understanding of zoning and what it really means.  


Yeah, certainly there's this idea that this is violating my democratic rights because it's getting rid of any say I have in my community. And I would say, number one, it's not really any enshrined right to be able to tell your neighbor what they can and can't do on their property. It's certainly nice to be able to contribute to that. But that's why we have the development permit and building permit process. 

And so neighbors will still have a say in things. They'll still be able to get a chance to talk about why a development makes sense or doesn't make sense in a community. And I think it's really important because for so long, I think a lot of people felt kind of disenfranchised by the development process. And that's really fair because I think a lot of times our political process sorts people into a for or against, yes or no. And we, you know, if we have a problem with the development, we're now like, okay, no, block the development. Let's stop this from happening. 

But I think we really need to switch the way we think about community engagement to kind of be like, okay, we know our community is growing. How is the question not if, but how can we make sure that this new development is paying attention to the community needs? One of the things that I would look for in a development in my community is we don't have any communal recycling bins in any of our communities or the surrounding communities. We have to go all the way across town to be able to put things into one of those big recycling bins that's at the back of Market Mall or whatever. And so if there's a development coming to my community, I want to be able to say, hey, can you host this? Can you make sure that our community has access to recycling and there's ways to engage with developers and make sure that the community is getting what it needs out of a development. I think that the kind of democratic process has gone a little bit off when it's just yes or no, and it loses the nuance and the importance of the way that growth can positively impact communities. That's kind of one area that I think a lot of people feel strongly about, but I would urge them to think about how they can have an impact instead of just a yes or no vote.  


Yeah, it's a bit more nuanced. Right. It isn't one or the other. It's often somewhere in the middle. And people do want to be heard, and that is important as citizens who want to be heard in these processes and to have their concerns addressed and listened to.  


Totally. I think another kind of misconception that I've heard trumpeted a lot. And there was a very recent, I think it was yesterday or the day before the Toronto Star put out an article talking a lot about, you know, the solution to this is to get rid of AirBnB’s, you know, everything would be solved if know, get rid of these short term rentals, the AirBnB’s, the VRBO’s, and turn that into housing. And you know, I think there's some really strong evidence to suggest that that's not a good solution in Calgary. There was a great study that came out of U of C, and I think they partnered with the City on this, and it was a multi year study on short term housing, and it talked about how 74% of the Calgary homes listed on Airbnb or VRBO are non permanent. 

So a lot of them are people who are snowbirds or a professor going on sabbatical, or are the examples that they used where this is actually someone's housing and they're allowing it to be full when otherwise it would have been empty. And so that's kind of like, okay, you get rid of the AirBnB and now that house is sitting empty when the snowbirds are in California, right? That's not helping housing someone. Whereas maybe it's being used by a student who's here just for a semester. There's only about 1500 listings in Calgary, and so if you take that, maybe what is it, 26% that are not used part time but are full time? That's a really small number. That's really a drop in the bucket of the kind of impact we need to have on our housing crisis. And so I'm really skeptical. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that cracking down on AirBnB’s is not actually going to unlock the mountains of supply that we need.  


Well, and we welcomed, what was it, just over 184,000 people into Alberta over 2022, 2023. And we know more people are coming, and so there remains, uh, a gap between demand and supply. Yeah. I wonder though, like in the development cycle of things, I think there are concerns that even if things are developed that it's all high-end luxury development and it's not going to move the needle on the affordability piece. 


Yeah, that's a great point that I hear a lot from a lot of people. People will be saying, oh, all this RCG, all these new developments, these new condos that are going up and they're not affordable. They're new, they're fancy, they're expensive. How is this going to make anything affordable for people who need housing? 

And it's important to realize that housing is a complex system. But one of the best metaphors that I've heard for thinking about our housing continuum is the idea of musical chairs. Right? We have a set number of houses in Calgary. There's a set number of chairs and there are some nicer chairs and there are some less nice chairs. 

You might think the best way to do it is to help people who don't have chairs to get more competitive, to run and grab the chairs faster. But the real solution is to just add more chairs. And if you add fancier, nicer chairs than the people who are really kind of competitive, who have the funds, they'll run to the fancy chairs. 

But it's important to realize that they're also leaving a chair. Right. When there is this building of new supply, there is very strong evidence to suggest that it filters down and it filters down relatively quickly. And so there's a report that is coming out of Sweden and it's really kind of got an excellent methodology because it follows particular households and particular fixed addresses all across the country. 

And it looks at what they call moving chains. So when a family leaves to go into a high-end new apartment, what is that chain? Who moves into that apartment that they have vacated and then follow along? Who moves into the apartment that that second family vacated? And so they found that there's kind of this average chain length of about 3.7 houses. So when you build a new house, there's about 3.7 moves up. And once you get to, I think it's the second move, then you're already impacting people whose incomes are below the national median. And so they find that these moving chain estimates are really filtering down and helping people who are in need of affordable housing, because it's that musical chairs effect. You might need to build a bunch of thrones in the musical chairs game, but having more chairs, period, helps everyone.  


I like that analogy. I think it helps understand that, and I think that actually helps with the understanding of what upzoning is, that it actually just moves people up the chain. 


Yeah, it creates more chairs and it creates a variety of different types of chairs. And that's the other thing is the chairs that upzoning allows for specifically is the ones that are kind of row houses, which as we chatted about earlier, are less than half the price of a new single detached home. And so if you're looking at the kind of life cycle of a lot of the inner-city bungalows in Calgary, because they're now getting old and they're reaching, approaching the end of their life cycle, the current status quo would mean that they would be replaced with another single family home, whereas now we're allowing for them to be replaced by maybe three, four units. That single family home is going to be more expensive than the three, four units, even if collectively the three, four units are more expensive, you divide that cost by three to the three families that are living there. And so it does actually make people more able to jump in right away.  


And it does come back to that transit oriented development that you were talking about earlier as well, where some of these more established neighborhoods that have these possibilities also have better transit nodes.  


Totally.I can't remember the exact number, but I um, think it's. Calgary is one of the worst cities in Canada in terms of the amount of income that people spend on transit, in terms of not like city transit, but transportation generally. And a lot of that comes from the fact that it's really difficult to live in an affordable place and have access to cheap transit because usually the affordable places to live in Calgary require you to have a car. And so it's kind of know pick your poison. Do you want to have cheap transportation or do you want to have cheap accommodation? There's rarely, rarely the opportunity to have both in our city. 


It really does come back to choices. Trade offs that people are being pushed to make because of the requirements due to how our city is currently set up. Interesting. A lot of research says that zoning isn't a silver bullet in addressing housing affordability. And I think it's really been positioned as that. Like this zoning piece is one part of a much bigger strategy, but what are some of the other strategies is for affordability.  


Yeah, I'm totally with you. Zoning is one piece of the puzzle. Some people particularly my friends, who are kind of depressed about the housing market, are like, oh, this is too little, too late. Is this actually going to do anything? And to them I say this is necessary, but not sufficient, it is needed. We need to be able to unlock this gentle density, but it is in no way enough to get us out of this housing crisis. And so there's a few other things that we need to be doing in order to get to where we need to go. The first thing is we need to pair these zoning changes with actual construction of new units, right? It's one thing to change the approval process, but if we don't have anyone who's able to build the housing, then this does nothing.  

And I think that's what I think a lot of people will point to in Seattle, because Seattle did some zoning changes and it took a long time before the actual supply of these kind of missing middle housing took off you know. One of the things that we can be doing is making sure that we are investing in construction and trades. We need to have more tradespeople in our city. We need to make sure that that's a career pathway that's getting emphasized, because we need to be able to have our construction industry have the capacity to build all these homes. So that's one thing.  

But the kind of ultimate thing that I think needs to happen is we need to build more kind of social housing, some more of that non-market housing. And that exists on a continuum. You have that deeply subsidized, supported living side of things, and then you have the slightly subsidized and kind of mixed market approaches. And it is so abundantly clear that we are way behind on what we need to be doing for these non-market housing builds. 

In the UK, where I did my Masters, about 15% of the housing stock is council housing or social housing. Right? 15%. The OECD and G7 average is about 7%, between, uh, six and 7%. The Canadian average? Is 3.5%. And the Calgary average is slightly below. So you know, we're not even talking about how we need to be leaders in this space. We're like half of the OECD average. So it is like pretty drastic how poor we have been at building social housing and honestly pretty poor at maintaining it too. We have such a dire need for maintenance on the affordable housing units that we have currently. And so this is an area that needs massive, massive investment. And so even if we doubled all of the social housing in Calgary, we wouldn't even be at the peer average of the OECD and G7. So one of the really important things we can do is call for that funding. 


I think this is a solvable challenge and it's interesting to see how different organizations are being involved. For example, like I read an article the other day that affordable housing is being built in Siksika via 3D printing. So there are 16 units, and those units are meant for those experiencing domestic abuse or homelessness and to help alleviate those things. And so it's interesting, like reading about companies like Lafarge, because it's like 3D printing with cement and seeing that side of business, talking about affordable housing and how can they be part of a solution. And so it's interesting to see where we're all impacted by this, like in our cities and in our province, our country, and how there's just so many different ways to come to the solution, but it really requires us to come and be able to have conversations and to make changes that can demonstrate some of these activities. 


Yeah, I think you're really onto something when you talk about this alternative building methods, right? Building housing in the traditional way that we've done it is really, really slow. And so we need to be getting creative, like 3D printing housing, modular housing, uh, building housing off site and then transporting it and building it up like a Lego tower. All of these kind of practices deserve to get that attention and to be considered deeply because we really need to be building quickly because people are really struggling. And so yeah, I love hearing about the kind of innovation that's going on in the construction sector.  

And the other thing that you touched on that's super important is this idea of Indigenous housing projects. There are some really excellent ones going on across Canada. So the Squamish nation has some of their nation's land and it's their land and they're not subject to the city bylaws or regulations or approval processes. So instead they've entered in a service agreement with the City of Vancouver to connect them to the city services and they've worked out and negotiated the transit access and the sewers and the utilities. And it's excellent to see the way that housing and housing affordability is also a decolonial project. And when we talk about land acknowledgments that's great, but I love to see action and looking at building housing supply and some of those units are actually going to be affordable units for members of Squamish Nation. So building affordable housing supply as a decolonial project is just excellent to see.  


Yeah, there's just so much happening and I think there's just a lot of possibility to meet the demand that we have in our city and that we know is going to be a growing demand moving forward into the future. As we talked about, it's just really important for people to get their voice out there and to be heard and to talk with their neighbors. How would you suggest people get involved?  


Oh, there's tons of opportunities. So you know, every resident in the City of Calgary should have received a flyer from the city, um, that talks about some of these specific zoning changes, and it'll give you opportunities for engagement. So there'll be a series of sessions that you can go to and they'll culminate in the public hearings happening on April 22 and you'll be able to sign up to speak at that or to submit a written piece to City Council on the city website, so that's kind of a great way to engage directly.  

There's also plenty of opportunities for you to just get involved in various community-based organizations that do work with housing. I'm a member of my community association and I sit on our expansion and development committee. And being able to understand my community's needs and work with the other community members allows me to talk about how to make the conversations more nuanced instead of getting everyone riled up on a yes or no vote. 

So doing things like that make a huge difference and they're great opportunities to volunteer and connect with community. And then there's also organizations that are doing some of that activist and advocacy work. So I'm involved with More Neighbors Calgary and we're kind of a pro housing organization that tries to advocate for those seeking housing, not just those who already have it. 

Because our current system is really set up to benefit those who currently have housing when it comes to engagement, it's the people who have the ability to take time off work. The people who are homeowners and get the information in their mailbox who tend to show up to do council work, and so at more neighbors, we're trying to balance that out by providing a voice for those seeking housing. And so there's plenty of opportunities to get involved with organizations like that as well.  

So whatever suits you. There's something out there for you.  


Lots of opportunities. Awesome. Thank you for having this conversation with me. 

We always like to close out our podcast with an extra fun question. So the question to you Inam is, what is your favorite area or space in Calgary?  


Oh, that's easy. The Central Library, without a doubt, hands down my favorite spot in the city. It's on transit. Literally a train that goes through it. And I love trains. I'm a big bookworm, so I feel at home. It's bright, it's accessible. I don't think there's any place in the world like the Central Library. Easy answer. That's my favorite spot in the city.  


Love it. Couldn't agree more. I'm a big fan of the library and the Central Library is just, uh, such a welcoming and accessible space. So wonderful. Thank you again for the conversation. 


My pleasure. And if I can kind of leave people with three thoughts that if you take nothing else from this podcast, I would say, please remember this. Three things.  

Calgary needs more housing. Period. Calgary needs more dense housing. And thirdly, Calgary needs more non-market social affordable housing. And so if you remember nothing else, remember those three things. 


Wonderful. Excellent. Thank you Inam.  


Thank you so much.  


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