Low post-flood vacancy rate hard on homeless, advocates say

There are concerns that the aftermath of last month's flood could make it more difficult for homeless people to find permanent housing in Calgary.

As market tightens with flood victims, vulnerable Calgarians seeking homes could lose out

Jacey Prairiechicken is worried her long search for a place to live will get even more challenging as flood victims drive vacancy rates down. (CBC)

There are concerns that the aftermath of last month’s flood could make it more difficult for homeless people to find permanent housing in Calgary.   The city’s vacancy rate was 1.2 per cent in April.

But with so many people displaced by the flooding, the rate could drop to zero in the next few months, said Andrea Ransom, who speaks for the Calgary Homeless Foundation.  

"Sometimes marginalized or vulnerable populations, if they're competing against others, they will not get the vacancies that do come up and what ultimately that means is more people will be staying in emergency shelters or sleeping rough," she said.

Jacey Prairiechicken, who is staying with her two young children at a shelter called Brenda's House, has been trying to find a place to live since May.

"It gets really discouraging. You know, like some days I wake up and I just don't want to do this anymore," she said. 

Last year it took client families about a month to find housing, whereas this spring four months was more typical, Brenda's House spokeswoman Patty Kilgallon said.

"Now with the flood we're really concerned that an issue that was already very difficult in Calgary will just exacerbate."

Calgary in a 'housing crisis'

The tightened market has many calling for changes to the city's secondary suite bylaws to open up more affordable housing.

"We were in a significant housing crunch before the flood and we are in what can only be described as a housing crisis now," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

"When students come back in a month's time, we're going to have some very, very significant problems, and we have got to get our heads around a housing strategy."

While the mayor and city council have explored options for legalizing secondary suites, none have amounted to anything.

Given the time required to conduct public consultations, it's unlikely city council could make any changes to the secondary suites bylaws before its term ends in October.

However, it is a topic the mayor says he will continue raising.

"I have pushed hard for this, I will continue to push hard for this," Nenshi said. "I think it's essential that we get this right. I think it's morally correct, legally correct and ethically correct that we allow safe, legal secondary suites throughout the city."