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Calgary Housing Company seeing ‘bottleneck’ as applications surge, turnover slows

Calgary’s affordable and low-income housing waitlists are getting longer with no reprieve in sight as the city faces low vacancy rates, rising rents and record population growth in Alberta.

The Calgary Housing Company is Alberta’s largest affordable housing provider and is feeling the effects of those issues. It’s experiencing low turnover in its residents and skyrocketing applications.

“We are in a significant housing crisis and we’re seeing a bottleneck throughout the housing system, and that includes the waitlist, said Sarah Woodgate, president and CEO of the agency. 

“This is the highest I’ve ever seen the waitlist for social housing in Calgary.”

President and CEO of the Calgary Housing Company Sarah Woodgate smiles in an outdoor setting. A home of some sort is behind her.
Calgary Housing Company president Sarah Woodgate says the low-income housing provider is experiencing a bottleneck in its vacancies as people are ‘less and less’ able to move to the private market. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

Woodgate has been the president and CEO since 2015. The provider manages properties owned by the city, the province and the Calgary Housing Company.

As of April, there were 7,184 households on its waitlist. Last April, there were about 5,000 families on the list

She says there are now, on average, almost 600 new applicants per month. The long-term average was 200.

The list is handled by a system based on priority, not first-come, first-served. According to CHC, this system “ensures that those most at risk and in need are matched to homes as soon as they are available.”

Currently, CHC has several development projects underway, including the redevelopment of Bridgeland Place

Low turnover causing backlog

To make matters worse, people aren’t moving from Calgary Housing into private market housing at the rates they used to.

“Previously, we had about 100 households a year move into home ownership and about 1,400 households move out primarily into market rental housing,” said Woodgate. “We’re seeing half of that number right now.” 

She said the jump in the applicant and waitlist growth began around 2022. 

Many of Calgary Housing’s properties are aging, making a bad problem worse.

“We need to maintain the housing that we have,” said Woodgate. “The housing that Calgary Housing Company manages is on average 40 years old.”

Woodgate said funding for property maintenance and rent support programs would help to immediately address their growing waitlist. 

Senior affordable housing waitlists growing, too

Silvera for Seniors is an affordable and mixed-income housing provider in Calgary. It, too, is seeing control over its waitlist become out of reach. There are 864 people waiting for independent living units, and 72 for supportive housing. The numbers equate to a jump in 385 applicants since last June. 

“The applications are up, the waitlist is growing, and you know the complexity of the needs are also there as well, said Arlene Adamson, president and CEO of Silvera.

A woman wearing a nametag in front of a seniors home
Arlene Adamson, CEO of Silvera for Seniors, says Silvera is seeing people with greater complexities applying to live in the units. (Karina Zapata/CBC)

Silvera’s waitlist is addressed by matching the needs of the applicants with the living facilities that come available. It also prioritizes those with a higher need. Adamson says seniors are at a heightened risk of facing poverty and homelessness due to their fixed incomes. 

“What’s really important is that we recognize that fixed incomes are not pacing with the cost of living and that is extremely problematic when housing costs are going up,” she said.

“You’re not able to get employment to augment your wages.”

Affordable homeownership?

Attainable Homes Calgary is a non-profit, city-owned agency working to help people with “moderate” incomes buy a home. 

Jayden Tait, president and CEO of the agency, says inventory is the biggest problem. 

“The challenge now is just based on the inventory supply crunch. We have no inventory,” he said. “So we are actively engaging with our clients, the people who reach out to us. And then as product becomes available, we work with them to determine if it’s the right product for them.”

He said they, too, have seen the number of registrants grow.

“In 2023, we received about, on average, 300 new registrants per month,” said Tait. “That number has grown significantly since before the pandemic, when we were averaging around 200.”

Tait said the number has remained at last year’s level.

Attainable Homes does not keep a waitlist. It uses a database that matches the right people with homes based on what is built and ready for purchase.

The agency has a 230-unit project underway, and construction is expected to begin this summer.

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