From the Federal government’s recently released National Housing Strategy to Alberta’s Provincial Affordable Strategy there’s reason to be hopeful about enhancing the affordable housing inventory in Alberta. With such an emphasis on the building of new affordable housing units, we can sometimes forget that housing is a real asset – and real assets age, and depreciate, and eventually reach the end of their useful life. These points aren’t missed by the strategies mentioned, there is recognition that existing affordable housing needs to be maintained, and redeveloped as it ages, and rightfully so – affordable housing units are rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives in many jurisdictions. A 2015 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment in Calgary noted that a large proportion of non-market rental units were expected to be in need of major repairs, suitable for redevelopment, or facing expiring operating agreements.

In 2017 two of Calgary’s affordable housing buildings were being considered for redevelopment. The two underutilized sites, one which was demolished in 2014, and one approaching the end of its lifespan, together representing over 150 units. The demolished development was made up core need (deep subsidy and rent supplement) housing. The still-standing site includes stacked townhomes, with a range of family types in residence, and no social supports delivered at this site. Already units in this development have fallen so badly in to disrepair that they are currently unoccupied, while all residents of the demolished development had to be moved, with support provided to the occupants.

Urban Matters CCC, partnered with the City of Calgary and S2, was able to participate in the redevelopment planning process for these two sites. Our contribution to this project ran from the initial situational analysis, through a detailed housing needs assessment, and a financial analysis of options for redevelopment. These deliverables included affordable housing supply and demand analyses, best practices and contextual research, detailed financial analyses and summaries of engineering and planning considerations, and a number of far more specific things besides.

How did a relatively lean Urban Matters CCC team adapt to deliver upon this diverse array of housing and development related expertise and work? Well, we didn’t – at least not alone. On this project we we were able to collaborate with Urban Systems Ltd (www.urbansystems.ca) to supplement our capacity and add expertise in various areas of the project, including land economics and finance, as well as engineering, planning, and GIS expertise. One of our greatest advantages at Urban Matters CCC is our ability to collaborate with our close partners in a particularly integrated way to meet the needs of your project specifically. We have the benefit of concentrating expertise in those areas where and when it is required, and where it has the greatest fit, while maintaining our relationship directly with you. We scale up and scale down as required.

On this project, our team had the chance to work with the City of Calgary to explore and put forward progressive and innovative options for redevelopment, all while dramatically intensifying the site use for affordable housing, adding a substantial number of additional units. In particular, given the nature of the communities we were able to look at non-automobile focused approaches for a more people-centred approach, opportunities to integrate more market-oriented housing types to support the financial sustainability of the non-market portions of the developments, and further, to look at opportunities to integrate non-residential spaces for the same purpose, and to increase community access to services. Overall, the focus was about true affordability, social impact, and sustainability – affordability for households with greater opportunity for lower cost transportation, affordability and positive social impact with subsidized amenity and service spaces accessible, and overall sustainability of impact and financial sustainability with a long-term lens focused on investment over short-sighted cost savings

Today the projects are aiming to introduce affordable, mixed-income, mixed-use housing developments that will provide homes for over three hundred and forty families – more than double the capacity of the previous developments. Ultimately, the goal is to develop affordable, livable, and complete communities, to this end the redevelopments will offer the opportunity to host supporting community services including subsidized daycare facilities, community amenity spaces, and social supports.

We’re so proud to be partnered with the City of Calgary as a part of the project team making this redevelopment a reality; and a our Community Housing Lead, Matt Thomson, is looking forward to presenting on the project with two City of Calgary staff in September of 2018 at the APPI Revitalize Conference.

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