I'm priced out of the housing market. That's a provincial election issue to me
It’s a provincial job to regulate landlords and stop city councils from limiting low-cost options
This column is an opinion by Humam Shwaikh, an IT product manager in Calgary. For more information about CBC's Alberta election 2023 opinion series, visit the My Priority home page.
As an Albertan in my late 20s — even making above the median salary — my savings have grown slower than the down payment on a house.
I work as a product manager in IT and I'm able to put aside about $750 a month, which includes retirement savings. But that doesn't even come close to covering how much the average down payment has increased in the past five years. Instead of getting closer to coming up with a down payment, I'm getting farther away. So I rent.
Even that's a challenge. I moved to Calgary from Edmonton last summer and searched through Kijiji, Rentfaster and community forums; I even walked the streets looking for vacancy signs for over three months. I submitted over 50 rental applications, only to be met each time with "Sorry, already rented."
I wanted privacy but there was absolutely nothing I could get for under $1,300 to live on my own. So for now I'm renting a room in a shared house — for which I'm grateful — but it's not something families and many other Albertans could manage.
This is why the inaccessible housing market is going to be my provincial ballot box issue come May.
This debate often ends up at city council, so people think it's just a municipal issue. But it's actually a provincial responsibility to fund affordable housing, regulate property rights and set housing policy.
They're responsible for setting policy to ensure safe, adequate and affordable market housing for all residents. Also to fund and implement social housing programs for those who will never be able to get market housing, and to regulate the rental market in terms of tenant rights, landlord responsibilities and rent control.
In Canada, many provinces delegate some of these responsibilities to cities. But if it's not going well, the province is the government responsible.
An inaccessible housing market is bad for everyone. It drives inflation, increases household debt and instability, and exacerbates inequality. Those who already own property benefit from rising prices, while those who don't struggle to get on the property ladder.
Currently, the Alberta government is doing little to tackle this problem.
This year's fiscal plan is 180 pages long, and only mentions housing in terms of housing starts, as if housing is only a measure of a strong economy.
Is it any surprise that the average rent asked in Calgary for new tenants looking at a one-bedroom apartment jumped 25 per cent in one year to nearly $1,700? That's according to the April report from Rentals.ca.
This is happening at the same time as the $5 million "Alberta Is Calling" campaign.
This election, I want to see a long-term housing plan where provincial candidates push for rent control and limit financialization of the housing market, along with a plan to aid more sensible zoning policy in the cities.
Landlords argue rent has to go up because of higher interest rates, taxes, and insurance premiums. But consider the impact. A single mom gets a call saying rent will increase $300 a month and she has to upend her entire life, even changing her kids' school, if she can't find the extra money.
If the city council can't make the changes needed, the provincial government needs to step in.- Humam Shwaikh
That type of instability doesn't make for a strong economy. I want to see limits there.
And as for cheaper housing, try to build a row of townhouses today and you'll find yourself at city hall debating endlessly with the established residents about why these houses aren't going to increase crime. The absurd arguments against building denser housing can go on for hours.
Last fall, I sat online watching as Calgary's city council proposed new zoning near major transit hubs called H-GO — marginally more dense in a few parts of the city, and therefore with marginally less expensive land costs.
But the debate took nearly 24 hours and still resulted in the motion passing with increased minimum parking requirements, which drives the cost back up.
I want to have the ability to start a family one day and find a place big enough for them. So if city council can't make the changes needed, the provincial government needs to step in. That's what the provincial government in B.C. started to do this month, and I think Alberta needs to get ahead of this if we want to keep growing.
That would get my vote.
What's the one thing that means the most to you in terms of the provincial election and why is that? We recruited over a dozen residents from across Alberta to answer that question.
Read their opinion pieces as they're published at cbc.ca/opinionproject.
Keep in mind, these pieces should not be taken as endorsements of any particular political party by either the writers or the CBC. They are expressions of the writers' points of view, and a look at how those opinions came to be formed.