With the completion of the second phase of the Sustainable Housing Initiative’s Enabling Housing Choice project, Alberta communities are one step closer to easing critical housing shortages.

The project pairs the EHC team with six participating municipalities to rework policies that create barriers to housing development, such as land use and zoning bylaws.

“The Enabling Housing Choice is responding to the national housing crisis by working alongside municipalities in developing and implementing transformational policy change,” Linda Bernicki, director of community development with the EHC team. 

“We are very excited to have completed the second phase of this project with these communities, and to help address the housing shortage in the community through transformational policy change.” 

Bow Island,Trochu, Mayerthorpe, Claresholm, Pincher Creek, and Airdrie are the six municipalities participating in the project. During its second phase, the towns and city were provided reports with policy recommendations for ways to improve the local diversity of housing.

These reports, and the research that preceded them, provide extra capacity to municipalities that might not have the necessary expertise in-house, said Sean Adams, planning specialist with the EHC team.

“Some of these smaller municipalities that we work with don’t have dedicated town planners or their contracting that work through private consultants. And so this was kind of an opportunity for municipalities to have our third-party perspective on their housing issues, and then ultimately provide some kind of unbiased third-party perspectives on potential solutions they could adopt,” he said.

Though affordable housing in Airdrie has historically suffered from under-investment, the EHC report to the city says it “still has the opportunity to avoid the rapidly deteriorating housing situation that is occurring in other cities by dedicating municipal efforts now.” Recommendations included establishing a reserve fund for affordable housing, acquiring underutilized land, and making zoning flexible to accommodate a diversity of housing options.

The city is still working through the technicalities of these policy options, but “they have made some significant strides,” Adams said. Immediately following the report from EHC, Airdrie council approved an affordable housing action plan that will implement some of its recommendations.

Along with legal and logistical hurdles to housing development, some of the barriers to building more stock boil down to communication issues between residents and local administrations, EHC project manager Alyce Wicker said.

“One of the issues is community buy in,” she said. You can talk about diversity and affordability all you want, but that talk won’t amount to much if the community is resistant to the prospect of bringing in “missing middle” housing.

“From duplexes to low rise apartments, there are perceptions about that type of development in municipalities. That this is low income, undesirables are going to move in here, it’s going to reduce our property value. So part of the whole process is is getting rid of, or speaking to those myths. And community engagement is very important,” Wicker said.

During community engagement sessions in one town, Wicker said they found strong community perception that there was no land available for the projects being proposed, while the municipal council had already identified suitable lots for development.

“So there’s a gap,” she said. “People need to understand that the municipality is doing things that are trying to help. And so that’s a communication issue.”

In the next phase of the project, municipalities will continue to meet with the EHC team and track progress on policy change and implementation. Wicker and Adams are also starting work on a guidebook for diversifying housing development in rural communities, which will outline processes developed through this project and help municipalities understand what the housing needs and wants are in their communities.

By Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 02, 2024 at 14:55

This item reprinted with permission from   St. Albert Gazette   St. Albert, Alberta
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