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Nothing dominates Canadian public discourse these days like the cost of housing. The stakes are high and all levels of government are focused on a goal to end the crisis.
Graeme Melton, the new chair of the board of directors at Building Industry and Land Development Association-Calgary Region, finds himself on the frontlines of the fight to make the market more accessible.
“The erosion of home affordability is one of the most significant issues facing people today,” says Melton. “Having an affordable home is necessary.”
In Calgary in particular, explains Melton, there are many factors driving up housing prices. Supply is a key issue — there simply aren’t enough homes to meet demand in a city that sees high levels of immigrant arrivals as well as migrants from other provinces.
“Calgary is a desirable place to live,” says Melton, who took over as chair after the BILD-Calgary Region annual general meeting in June. “It’s consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in Canada and the world.”
As the city’s population balloons, greenfield development — new neighbourhoods and subdivisions on undeveloped land — are essential in keeping up with market demand.
On the issue of housing, Melton describes the current level of alignment between municipal, provincial and federal governments as “unprecedented” and commends city council for approving the new communities that are springing up on the urban periphery.
“We need to be consistently adding these if we’re going to keep up with demand,” Melton says. Beyond his role at BILD-Calgary Region, Melton, who’s been in the industry for 20 years, serves as vice-president, community development division for the Calgary region at Melcor Development Ltd.
Despite increasing costs of construction, a shortage of labour and supply chain issues that have lingered since the pandemic, 2022 saw the record number of housing starts, or new builds, in the city’s history.
A key area of focus in new developments is focusing on homes at the more affordable end of the spectrum to help potential buyers get their first set of keys.
Similarly, the share of purpose-built rentals increased 24 per cent in 2022 and 33 per cent so far this year, adding critical supply to a red hot market.
BILD, at the organization’s national level, is also advocating for the easing of other barriers, such as allowing for mortgages longer than 25 years.
Increasing the supply of labour is another way to keep costs in check, says Melton. BILD recently held a workshop with the provincial government on this and has been engaging with SAIT and regional school boards to help bring more young Albertans into careers in construction.
“We’re encouraged to see governments responding by bringing skilled labour into the province,” says Melton, adding that residential construction has a huge economic impact in Alberta’s largest city and accounted for 63,000 jobs last year.
Alongside affordability, Melton cites climate change as the second major issue when it comes to housing development.
“Our BILD staff are working towards cost effective solutions on a number of fronts. We’re looking at communities in ways we haven’t before. On the densification side, the goal is to reduce the footprint of our communities,” says Melton. This includes reducing the size of streets, decarbonizing construction and including solar panels at affordable rates.
While Melton says the housing industry and its leading organizations are “feeling the pressure” to implement effective solutions to the housing crisis, he adds that industry members remain optimistic about where Calgary is headed.
“It’s still a very affordable metropolitan area and a great place for families,” he says. “At BILD, we take a can-do approach, with our members continuing to innovate and offer new options to Calgarians.”
The degree to which BILD-Calgary Region’s initiatives are able to slow the rise in home prices, particularly relative to income growth, will continue to play out in tandem with government action on the issue.
Still, Melton points to solid results in new developments, densification and rental supply as signs things are headed in the right direction.
“It feels like what we are doing can really make a difference,” says Melton. “It really matters that we do a good job and leave behind communities that work for the city.”