By Sara Hanson
The rate of homelessness in Calgary is growing faster than anywhere else in the province.
In response to this disturbing trend, the University of Calgary’s Development Studies Club held a forum to discuss the Calgary housing crisis Thur., Mar. 29.
“We’ve heard a lot about this present crisis and we wanted to relate the issue to students,” said DSC member Michael Nyberg, noting a number of stories club members brought forward about U of C students having to either move or take on part-time jobs as a result of rising rent costs.
Calgary Homeless Foundation CEO Wayne Stewart was part of the five-member panel that answered questions during the forum.
“Homelessness is way beyond complex,” said Stewart during the panel’s opening statements. “We are trying to identify solutions that fit a complex problem.”
Social work professor Dr. Jeannette Waegemakers Schiff disagreed with Stewart.
“The problem is a complex problem for a small group of people,” she said. “For others, it’s simple because the problem is just about a lack of resources.”
After expressing concern about the growing trend towards gated communities, Calgary Housing Action Initiative director Grant Neufeld stressed the importance of pressuring the city to implement inclusionary zoning that would permit integration of low-income housing into middle-class neighbourhoods.
“We need to learn to live beside each other,” said Neufeld. “We need to transform community attitudes and bring an attitude of change to these communities.”
“We need to spread awareness and understanding into these communities,” he said.
Neufeld also stressed the negative affect the housing crisis has had on Calgary’s arts community, as many artists simply cannot afford to stay and work in the city.
While Waegemakers Schiff said implementing a rental cap would produce results within 12-18 months, Calgary Foothills MLA Len Webber–who also sat on the provincial task force on affordable housing–disagreed.
“Rental controls just don’t work,” he said. “Instead, we need to provide incentives for developers. We need more affordable land for developing.”
Stewart said instead of placing all the blame with the provincial government, Calgarians need to work with the city to find practical solutions to the housing crisis.
“We have got to confront the brutal facts of reality,” said Stewart. “We need to look at solutions that work within the context that we are living in.”
In response to the idea that Calgary’s housing crisis is specifically affecting students, Canadian Federation of Students Alberta representative Kathleen Rhodes replied that graduate students accepted by the U of C may simply choose not to come because the cost of living is so high.
Waegemakers Schiff said there needs to be an increase in the share of students’ living costs that is currently subsidized by the government.
“We grossly underestimate what students need to live,” she said. “We need to be a little more realistic.”
Although there were only a small number of U of C students in attendance at the forum, Nyberg said students have an important role to play by voicing their concerns.
“I want to see people talking to their MLAs and aldermen,” he said. “This issue is affecting us all, but nobody does anything about it.”