Calgarians struggle to find affordable housing as number of low-cost rental units decreases

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Finding an affordable place to rent in Calgary hasn’t been easy for Gregory Fraser.

“I’ve had to downsize to a one-bedroom between me and my partner and my dog. I’ve had to move abruptly from place to place because we couldn’t afford that place anymore,” he said.

Fraser and his partner now rent the upper floor of a house in the city’s northeast for $1,500 a month. He says it’s tight, but it works for now.

“If something comes up or there’s issues with my dog or anything, like unexpected bills, then it might be a little tougher,” Fraser said.

A new report from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy says the number of low-cost rental units in Calgary and Edmonton has dropped significantly over the last 30 years.

Between 1990 and 2018, Calgary lost 3,155 low-cost rental units and Edmonton lost 669.

Both cities also grew over that period — Calgary by more than 590,000 and Edmonton by nearly 367,000.

On a per capita basis, the number of affordable rentals fell by 59 per cent in Calgary and 39 per cent in Edmonton.

The report ruled out rising incomes and construction costs as the reasons for the difference between the two cities.

Instead, it suggests local land-use regulations, like zoning bylaws, at the municipal level are behind it

“The potential effect of land use regulations on rents is why researchers in Canada and the US have suggested attention be paid to local government policy choices when trying to understand what determines the local supply of low-cost housing,” the report said.

Vibrant Communities, a local non-profit working to end poverty, wants to see the government take more action.

“We’ve heard that it’s pretty scary out there. Some people are paying as much as $600 more a month,” said Lee Stevens, policy and research specialist with Vibrant Communities.

“We really can’t take our foot off the gas and whether that’s government owning and operating social housing or whether that’s non-profit housing providers, I think we need to remove as many barriers as possible.”

Fraser hopes that change will happen.

“I think it’s difficult for everyone right now because of the up-pricing and just groceries and in life in general. It’s not an easy system for everyone,” he said.

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