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Housing in Calgary: Nenshi is the Crisis

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In many ways, housing is the foundation of an economy. It's difficult to attract workers -- skilled or otherwise -- to a growing economy, or keep them, if there's nowhere for them to live.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce President Adam Legge gets this.

In a blogpost on the Calgary Chamber website, Legge makes a very cogent point: housing shortages are hurting Calgary's economy. And when it should be getting better, instead it's getting worse:

"The rental vacancy rate in Calgary is essentially at zero – 0.3% – in other words rental accommodations are near impossible to come by. And it’s getting worse. This last year we actually lost more than 270 units out of the rental supply, the 10th consecutive year of declining rental stock in Calgary. It was bad before the flood, but the flood took existing inventory out of the market and pushed a whole new group of families out looking into an already limited pool of accommodation."

This has some very stark consequences:

"This causes challenges in a number of forms. First it drives up rents. Second, it has, anecdotally, led to some unfortunate business practices by some of Calgary’s less scrupulous landlords. Third, it is major problem for Calgary businesses as it impairs Calgary’s ability to continue to attract new workers to the city – for where will they live?"

So, Calgary needs housing. Not necessarily whatever can be built wherever it can be built, but awfully close.

Someone should send Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi the memo. Or set an alarm clock. While judging from his words one may think he's gotten the message, he's still asleep in an ideological dreamland. Instead of getting the ball rolling in terms of getting a sufficient number of new housing builds on the go he's instead been holding out for developments that adhere to his own ideological vision -- focusing on the mostly-ideological concern of "urban sprawl" -- and openly antagonizing developers.

While the idea of mandatory inclusionary zoning -- a requirement that developers include a percentage low-income housing as a precondition of their build permits -- might sound like a good idea to those who favour the government forcing its will on developers, it's a disincentive to developers. Like rent control, it actually shrinks the availability of housing and drives up prices for everyone else. There are better solutions available that utilize the tools of, rather than trample, the free market -- such as housing coops.

While Calgary doesn't currently have the power to enforce mandatory inclusionary zoning, Nenshi has hinted that he will approach the province for the power to do so.

But perhaps Nenshi's greatest contribution to Calgary's housing crisis has been his open antagonism toward developers. Nenshi made decisions that effectively made political opponents out of developers. Then when developers began to organize against him politically, his personal sense of entitlement led him to some acting out that has landed him in some rather hot water.

Calgary needs solutions and needs them as immediately as possible. If Mayor Nenshi can set his ego aside long enough to actually work with developers the city may find them in time. If not, forget about it.

The real Calgary housing crisis is Naheed Nenshi's over-inflated ego.

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