Calgary's Olympic bid slashes affordable housing promise

When Calgary's Olympic bid appeared to be on the verge of flaming out, the bid corporation made some last minute, late night adjustments — or more specifically cuts to its budget which eliminated 1,000 units from its original housing promise.

1,000 units cut from original proposal of 2,800

The Calgary 2026 bid corporation has slashed 1,000 units from its proposal to build affordable housing as a core legacy of its bid to host the Winter Games. Experts question whether any of the 1,800 units in the new plan will get built. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

When Calgary's Olympic bid appeared to be on the verge of flaming out, the bid corporation made some last minute, late night adjustments — or more specifically cuts to its budget which eliminated 1,000 units from its original housing promise.

The original hosting plan, described by some as ambitious and even unrealistic, included 2,800 housing units. But, it was whittled down to 1,800, and the proposed Olympic village in Victoria Park where hundreds of units would have been built is no longer on the table.

Most of the units, 2,100, were originally identified as non-market housing, but it's unclear what the latest promise around affordable housing involves. Those units would have accommodated low-income earners, seniors and Indigenous people.

The budget for the housing component was slashed from $620 million to $490 million, according to the bid corporation.

"We have eliminated student housing, which is the lowest demand out of all of the affordable housing, or social housing that will be left in the community," said bid corporation CEO Mary Moran.

Moran said the change was made because the Games won't have to house as many security personnel as first thought.

As a result the security budget was also trimmed as the bid corporation scrambled to make adjustments on the eve of a city council vote that could have killed the city's Olympic bid and cancelled the Nov. 13 plebiscite.​

New proposal unclear

The bid corporation was unable to clarify the exact details of its revised, scaled-down plan.

"We are still working through the numbers. We are committed to providing as much as possible while being responsible about what the actual needs are for the Games," said bid corporation spokesperson Ruth Anne Beck in an email to the CBC.

While the details haven't been worked out, the bid corporation said discussions have already started with several agencies that could potentially build the units and then operate them after the 27-day Olympic and Paralympic Games come to an end.  But those same agencies are also waiting for answers.

The Community Housing Affordability Collective declined an interview request until it gets more details about the plan.

The group is made up of a number of community agencies whose goal is to make housing more affordable in Calgary.

"We would prefer to hold comment until we have had an opportunity to meet with members of Bidco, hopefully sometime next week, to better understand the current package," said Beverly Jarvis, co-chair of the group, in an email to CBC News on Nov. 1.

Promise won't be kept 

There are skeptics the bid corporation will not be able to deliver on its promises — even though the number has been cut to 1,800 units.

"Past experience suggests there's a high risk of it not happening," said Ron Kneebone, with the University of Calgary's school of public policy.

Kneebone has studied affordable housing and poverty issues for years. He said Olympic Games rarely stay on budget and once the cost overruns start adding up, affordable housing or other benefits for low-income earners are usually one of the first things to go.

"I understand the city is going to be on the hook for those cost overruns and they're going to have to make a decision, where are we going to have to cut back," he said.

Organizers of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games promised to build 252 affordable housing units as part of its Olympic village in the southeast False Creek area, but delivered half of that amount. 

"There are different ways of encouraging affordable housing to be built, probably using the excuse of an Olympics to justify building affordable housing is probably going to result in very expensive and relatively few units being built," said Kneebone.

The bid corporation said while the 1,000 student units component has been dropped for a savings of $45 million, it is still planning to deliver on some of the other units.

"We have not removed any housing for low-income citizens, Indigenous peoples or seniors," said Beck.

Athletes' village location a mystery

The athletes' village, which has been moved out of the Rivers District near Stampede Park, was expected to be a mix of market and non-market housing post-Games. 

An artist's rendering of what the area around the existing Victoria Park bus barn might look like in the future. (City of Calgary)

A new location hasn't been revealed. 

"We'll be happy to share that publicly once it's confirmed," said Beck.

Asked about the challenges of delivering the housing component of the Games' plan in light of Vancouver's experience, the bid corporation remains confident.

"This will get done," said Fergal Duff, the director of capital infrastructure for Calgary 2026.

"There's a huge need here, with the will of the community we will make this happen," he said.


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.


LIVE EVENT: CBC Calgary Olympic Games Plebiscite Town Hall

If you live in Calgary, find out what you need to know before you cast your vote in the Nov. 13 plebiscite by tuning in to the CBC Calgary Olympic Games Plebiscite Town Hall.

Featuring a knowledgeable panel and hosted by the Calgary Eyeopener's David Gray, we will hear from both sides and take questions from the audience. Panellists include:

  • Calgary 2026 CEO Mary Moran.
  • Yes Calgary 2026 organizer Jason Ribeiro.
  • Coun. Evan Woolley, chair of city council's Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games assessment committee.
  • Economist Trevor Tombe.

It'll take place at Calgary's new Central Library (800 3rd St. S.E.) on Wednesday, Nov. 7, starting at 6 p.m. All of the reserved tickets have been claimed, although there will be rush seating available at 6:15 p.m. as capacity allows.

Didn't get a ticket? Never fear, you can tune in by:

  • Joining our Facebook Live at facebook.com/cbccalgary, where you can ask questions and post comments.
  • Watching the Facebook Live on our regular website and app.
  • Listening in on CBC Radio One (99.1 FM or 1010 AM in Calgary), at cbc.ca/calgary or your CBC Radio App from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. MT.

About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.