Attempt to unlock surplus land for affordable housing falls short
City council was hoping a review of surplus city land would lead to some new sites becoming available for affordable housing in Calgary. But the search has produced little success.
Council's community development committee heard Thursday that the review found the city has 407 surplus properties.
However, only two sites would be appropriate for future affordable housing developments.
Officials say ideal locations must be a certain size, not require environmental remediation, be close to transit, grocery stores and other amenities, and the land must not be needed for other city priorities.
The lack of suitable sites generated some skepticism from council members.
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he believes there are locations in his part of town that could be looked at.
"We've got vacant lots that have minimal encumbrances in terms of utilities and stuff underneath them," said the Ward 9 representative.
"I honestly think there's a lot more land out there."
The report to council noted that many city-owned properties like parcels around community centre sites may appear to be suitable for development, but they're often severely restricted in terms of how they can be used.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she's "incredibly disappointed" that only two sites have been deemed suitable for affordable housing.
She said council would like to see the actual list of properties so they can examine why so many sites failed to meet the criteria.
"We've made a recommendation that that list come to council. We'll review it carefully, and hopefully council will make sure that a subsequent strategic meeting of council allows us to determine how we can change that list to having more sites," the mayor said.
Thursday's report wasn't all doom and gloom from her perspective, though.
Gondek said that since she was first elected as a councillor in 2017, she's been asking why land management has fallen to each city department as that means there's no overall property strategy.
She said that after a recent reorganization, it now appears there is a cohesive plan for managing city property and that should help unlock more land for affordable housing in the future.
Conversions still possible
Coun. Terry Wong asked if the city is taking a look at whether unused office properties that it owns can be converted to residential uses.
"I can name two city buildings within two blocks of this building (city hall) that could be looked upon if we take a look at restacking our business units," said Wong.
City officials say there is a review underway looking at requirements for city staff, and some properties with the potential for conversion could be declared surplus at some point.
The city would like to create 15,000 new units of affordable housing, given the need in Calgary.
It has sold nine properties in recent years to non-profit organizations, which have in turn built nearly 300 housing units.
Administration is recommending city council approve the creation of a dedicated fund to acquire land and prepare properties for future housing developments.
That would likely happen in the 2024 budget process.
The committee heard Thursday that a portion of the city's industrial land sales is directed to affordable housing.
Five per cent of the proceeds from industrial land sales are set aside for affordable housing projects. Those sales have generated $21 million in recent years.
City council will discuss the review and the idea of creating a special fund during an upcoming meeting in April.