In December 2007, at the height of Calgary’s housing crunch, a report emerged from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation that confirmed what many had long suspected: the cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Calgary eclipsed that of all major Canadian cities, marking the first time since the CMHC started tracking the data that Calgary tenants paid more than their counterparts in Toronto and Vancouver.
What’s more, the cost of that two bedroom apartment had grown by 83% over the span of a decade, from the $595 paid on average in 1996, to the $1,089 required to rent an equivalent unit in 2007.
A poll conducted in 2008 found that due to this dramatic cost increase (combined with a critically low vacancy rate), half of those sleeping on Calgary streets were employed, including 200 working families – 190 of which included one or more children.
Even those fortunate enough to have secured affordable accommodations before the vacancy rate plummeted to 0.5% were’t immune.
Some Calgarians found themselves among the 2500 tenants unilaterally evicted as landlords raced to convert entire rental complexes into more profitable condominiums, while others faced seemingly obscure rent increases, leaving them little option but to pay hundreds of dollars extra per month in order to stave off eviction.
Such was the experience of Marni Armstrong, whose landlord hiked her rent by 150%, from $600 to $1500 per month in an effort to force her and others from their units so to hasten the process of condo conversion.
Despite widespread calls for the Province to implement rent controls, a measure overwhelmingly supported by homeowners (78%) and renters (92%) in both Calgary and Edmonton, the Stelmach government flatly rejected the idea, even refusing to consider it as a temporary measure.
Because of the Tories’ reluctance to intervene, hundreds, if not thousands, of Calgarians were effectively priced out of the market during the housing crisis, forced onto the streets despite having steady, if not multiple, sources of income.
Skip ahead to 2011, and evidently, little has changed.
According to the most recent data from the CMHC, the average cost of renting a two bedroom apartment in Calgary sits at $1,069 per month, virtually identical to the 2007 market. A 2011 report released by The City of Calgary Community and Neighbourhood Services Social Research Unit outlines the continual need for affordable housing alternativesin the city.
On affordable housing and homelessness, the report states “homelessness is not only a housing problem, but it is always a housing problem.”
“In order to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary in the Private Rental Market without overspending on shelter, a person would need to earn a minimum wage of $20.62 per hour, which is an hourly shortfall of $11.82 over the current Alberta Minimum Wage of $8.80. Stated another way, 2.3 people would need to work full- time for a full-year at the current Alberta Minimum Wage of $8.80 to affordably rent a two-bedroom apartment in Calgary.”
It estimates nearly 40,000 renters in Calgary who “simply cannot afford to pay average market rent [leaving] them at considerable risk of becoming homeless.”
Though Calgary’s city council cannot change decisions made at the provincial level (rent control, minimum wage), they posses the ability to expand the market of safe, affordable housing for both renters, and home owners, simply by making secondary suites legal throughout the city.
The measure currently being considered by city council, and endorsed by influential organizations including the CMHC, Calgary Chamber of Commerce (CCOC), Calgary Real Estate Board (CREB), Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Calgary Region (CHBA), Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), Urban Development Institute (UDI), Fraser Institute, Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), and the YWCA of Calgary, would be beneficial to all Calgarians, irrespective of age, race, gender, or income.
As noted by the CMHC, legalizing secondary suites is “a relatively inexpensive, low impact way to provide safe, affordable housing to Calgarians [which] affords the opportunity for renters to live in locations … close to their places of work, educational institutions or important services.”
Calgary home owners, both current and prospective, would also benefit from the legalization of secondary suites because rental income from legal suites can assist in paying down, or count toward qualifying for, a home mortgage. In essence, secondary suites make housing more affordable for all Calgarians, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Much of the opposition toward the broad legalization of secondary suites arises from the disconnect between the reality and perception of what constitutes a livable income, as well as attitudes toward those on the lowest end of the bracket.
A Salvation Army report examining Canadians’ attitudes toward poverty found over half of those surveyed believe a family of four “can get by on $30,000 a year or less, including 21 per cent who think $20,000 is enough.” According to Statistics Canada, a Canadian family of four earns, on average, $84.800 annually – more than double what is believed to be the absolute minimum.
On those living in poverty:
- 49 per cent believe if the unemployed really want to work, they’d find a job
- 43 per cent believe all you need to escape poverty is “a good work ethic”
- 41 per cent believe those in poverty “take advantage” of assistance programs
- 28 per cent believe those in poverty have lower moral values
- 23 per cent believe people live in poverty because they’re lazy
The fact is, people who live at or below the poverty line include students, seniors, and those with struggling with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. They include single parents, working families, and immigrants new to the Country. Many living in poverty aren’t unemployed, but underemployed – possessing an extensive range of skills and training, but only able to find work in low paying positions.
For these people, having access to safe, affordable accommodations is often the vital first step toward escaping life on the brink.
Affordable housing should never be considered a privilege, but a basic human right.
Calgary prides itself on being a world class city, welcome to all who wish to enjoy the vast array of culture, diversity, and opportunity the city provides.
How attainable this ideal will be for future generations will depend entirely on the ability to afford the opportunity to call Calgary home, and the looming decision on secondary suites could prove to be the deciding factor.
Cross-posted at rabble.ca
Calgary City Council will decide the fate of secondary suites THIS COMING MONDAY, March 7. It’s time to Take Action, Calgary!
Contact Mayor Nenshi and/or your local Alderman and tell him/her to support the legalization of secondary suites – ALL contact information can be found HERE
Together we can keep the city moving forward, beyond outdated policies, and toward a Better Calgary.