NIMBY-ism shouldn’t be allowed to curtail access to housing – provincial legislation needed

By Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta

Having decent, appropriate and affordable housing is critical to a healthy successful life.  Decent means no cockroaches or fire hazards, for example;  appropriate means located near necessary services (schools, daycare, parks and the like) and affordable is self-explanatory.  This is true everywhere in the world but especially so in harsher climates such as our own.  What could be clearer?

Yet time after time after time we see efforts to increase the supply of subsidized or modestly-priced housing squelched by local resistance, the not-in-my-backyarders.  While usually small in number, NIMBYers tend to be loud and local politicians too often susceptible to their complaints.  Enough already – it’s time for the provincial government to legislate where local politicians are too fearful to tread:  we need enforceable housing rights and we need them now.

For evidence one need go no further than Calgary’s secondary suites saga which is indeed the stuff of municipal government legend.  How many times has the issue whether to allow secondary suites come before council?  More than forty, and we’re still counting.  Instead of a logical, well though-out policy Calgary has a process which requires home-owners wanting to develop, for example, a simple basement suite to come before council to argue the merits of their individual case.  You would be forgiven for thinking this is what we have a bureaucracy for, to work out the details of individual cases.  But oh no, the entire city council – 14 members plus the Mayor – has to be involved in every case.  This is Mickey Mouse government on a critical issue and has to end.

The secondary suites issue is excruciating but far from the only aspect of the problem.  The recent horror in Rosedale – an affluent neighbourhood in northwest Calgary – is illustrative.  Some residents publicly opposed the building of 16 affordable units on 8 lots leftover from the widening of an adjoining road because of “the possible class of people” who would rent them.  The Calgary Sun reported that the City received comments such as “Rosedale is not a place for affordable housing” and “House owners in Rosedale paid millions to own their houses and take this as their pride.”

Despite such selfish and ill-informed nastiness the Land and Asset Strategy Committee voted 3 to 1 to recommend that the units be built.  But the spectacle was as councillor for the area Druh Farrell put it “sickening.”  To her credit it’s Farrell’s view that “No community can say affordable housing doesn’t belong here.”

There has to be a better way to approve needed housing projects and thankfully there is – provincial legislation could put an end to these farces.

And then of course there is homelessness, a revealing social disaster if there ever was one.  In 21st century Canada how can it be that we have many thousands of people without permanent homes?  It’s a moral scandal, and just as bad – arguably worse – are the people who object to the construction of housing needed to address the problem.  We saw this again in Calgary where the Drop-In Centre, Canada’s largest homeless shelter has been trying to convert a former hotel into supported housing.  The project finally got approval in June but four years were wasted on NIMBY-type objections.

It’s time for the provincial government to legislate that decent, appropriate and affordable housing shall be built in every neighbourhood where land is available.  That legislation should also specifically require that common sense housing solutions, such as secondary suites and laneway housing, be allowed throughout the province.  There is no doubt that the provincial government has the authority to enact such legislation and it should do so.

Some Alberta municipalities may already be doing a good job in this area.  Good for them.  Where this is the case, such legislation will make little or no change.  But for those municipalities, such as Calgary, the principle has to be established that housing is just too important to be left to NIMBY-ism.

There are various ways to put this into law.  Ideal would be a legislated sustainability framework, encompassing housing but also much more.  An expansion of the Human Rights Act to guarantee affordable housing could also work.  Perhaps enacting a legally enforceable Affordable Housing Charter would be the best way to start.

Of course local people should always be consulted on the details of how new projects are going to proceed in their neighbourhoods.  But satisfying the need for housing must always override thoughtless, elitist and protectionist views.

We need a healthy mix of decent, appropriate and affordable housing in all our communities and the provincial government should pass legislation requiring Alberta municipalities to act accordingly.

A version of this blog first appeared on the Troy Media website at http://www.troymedia.com/2016/08/09/nimby-curtail-access-housing/

 

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