The city is leasing two parcels of municipal land to non-profit agencies to develop temporary, transitional housing for up to 240 of the city’s most vulnerable families.
At a housing conference Thursday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced the sites near the Whitehorn LRT station in the northeast and the Fish Creek-Lacombe LRT station in Shawnee Slopes in the southwest.
While the total number of units is still to be determined, the housing is expected to be built within 18 months, according to Gondek.
The city has put out expressions of interest for non-profit housing providers and will select the two agencies after the EOI closes on Jan. 15.
Acknowledging that 18 months is a long time to wait for Calgarians who are preparing for a winter on the streets, Gondek said the city is using an accelerated process to complete the project.
“Everything feels slow when you’re in the midst of it,” she said. “It feels like it takes too long to identify sites and . . . get to the build. The thing we have to remember is land assembly is critical and making sure the right services are available, both for access to amenities but also beneath the ground — all that stuff takes time.”
The project relates to an amendment to the city’s housing strategy — which council approved in September — to allocate two pieces of city-owned land for modular housing as emergency lodging for up to 240 families.
“Council did make it very clear in the amendment that we were looking at temporary, transitional-style housing for folks — not an emergency shelter,” Gondek said.
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The mayor said the fact the city is leasing rather than selling land will expedite the builds.
“Leasing takes a few months, whereas a land purchase can take up to a year,” she said.
“We’re sending the signal that right now, we absolutely need this land for this purpose. But in the future, once we have better housing options for people, it can be used for other purposes.”
Tim Ward, the manager of the city’s housing solutions, noted the locations are not only walking distance from public transit, but also not far from schools and commercial amenities.
“We’ve really done our due diligence to make sure these are the right kind of sites to be released for this kind of program,” he said.
The Whitehorn site is a 3.6-acre parcel located north of 34th Avenue and west of 36th Street N.E., while the Fish Creek-Lacombe site is on 3.3 acres of land just west of Shawnee Gate S.W. and Macleod Trail.
After the EOI closes in January, Ward said the city will select the non-profits and work with them throughout the rezoning and development permitting process.
He said the housing is intended to be temporary.
“We need people to transition from this type of housing to a more permanent housing with grace and dignity,” he said.
‘Long overdue and much needed’
Thursday’s announcement was welcome news to Calgary’s social services agencies.
Heather Morley, the executive director of Inn From the Cold, praised the expansion of Calgary’s transitional housing stock.
She told reporters the project is “long overdue and much needed,” adding that every day, Inn From the Cold staff help families that are pushed closer to the brink of homelessness.
“Our shelters are full and, as we know, we’re in the middle of an affordable housing crisis,” she said. “The opportunity for a project that focuses on transitional housing for families will be an incredible lifeline.”
Chaz Smith, founder and CEO of Be the Change YYC — a homelessness outreach organization — said it’s important to continue the conversation about Calgary’s housing crisis.
“Many of us have had our rents go up $300 or $400 in one year, and we’re seeing a new wave of folks experiencing homelessness for the very first time,” he said.
“I’m very glad to see the city is activating land and doing that very quickly.”
Ward said the city will conduct public engagement with community members after the non-profit providers are determined.
Asked how she’d counter any resident pushback to the projects, Morley replied that everyone deserves a home and that housing is a human right.
“What I’d say to all Calgarians (is that) these are our neighbours, these are our friends, these are our family,” she said.
“If you don’t want to see homelessness, if you don’t want to think about a child sleeping in a shelter, you have to say yes to affordable housing.”