Calgary organizations staring down $376M shortfall due to COVID-19, document says

Local non-profits and city-owned organizations are likely to face enormous financial challenges in the weeks and months ahead as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to a city document.

City document spells out huge financial challenges the pandemic could pose over the next year

A city document estimates a number of Calgary sectors are facing a large financial shortfall due to COVID-19. (CBC)

Local non-profits and city-owned organizations are likely to face enormous financial challenges in the weeks and months ahead as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to a city document.

The document estimates that it would cost approximately $376 million to cover the costs for various sectors in Calgary, including affordable housing, homeless shelters and civic partners.

The document, acquired by CBC News, was created very early on in the city's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a city official said. It is undated and is not currently city policy, and it is unclear if its recommendations are still being considered.

Still, it provides a glimpse into how COVID-19 has rocked Calgary institutions and social services, and illustrates how the path back to normalcy is fraught with questions.

"[We] created this document in consultation with our community partners, to provide the provincial and federal governments an estimate of the order of magnitudes these agencies in Calgary were facing," said Sherri Zickefoose with the city in an email to CBC News. "This was not a funding proposal, and was a snapshot in time."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he hadn't seen the document and therefore couldn't comment on it directly, but said the city will ask the federal and provincial governments for a bailout package.

In the document, various funding proposals are listed as options to keep city organizations afloat.

Affordable housing

The document says Calgary is aiming to support low and moderate-income households during the COVID-19 crisis.

Using data from the 2008 Hurricane Katrina disaster, the document says the city estimates a 33 per cent rent default rate due to COVID-19, which would impact around 18,500 low-income renters.

To handle these challenges, the document proposes establishing a "rent bank," which would provide two months of funding to prevent eviction and default in Calgary's low-income rental market. 

The document also proposes providing funding to a number of other housing providers. All told, affordable housing is pegged at $104 million each year.

Social service sector

Funding required for this sector is listed as $46 million for one year. These programs include those related to seniors, urban Indigenous communities and vulnerable children and families.

Organizations in this sector are likely to see reduced staff capacity, the document says, as many are expected to self-isolate during the pandemic.

The sector is also likely to see a significant loss in revenue from hall rentals, fundraising events and more.

Homeless shelters

This section of the document suggests providing approximately $47 million in funding per year to Calgary's homeless shelters so that they can secure alternative lodging in hotels to achieve recommended physical distancing.

Such a plan has likely changed internally, considering the city was recently overruled by the province on efforts to house the homeless in hotels.

Calgary's Alpha House has about 40 people in a hotel, but Calgary's Drop-In Centre and The Mustard Seed have instead housed the homeless population in other spaces, such as the Telus Convention Centre and First Alliance Church.

In a document distributed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on April 2, it is recommended that governments procure motel or hotel rooms for the homeless population if buildings such as army barracks or unused hospitals cannot be repurposed.

Civic partners

The document also says 15 city-owned organizations are looking at revenue losses of nearly $11 million each month while they're shut down. 

"This is an extraordinary problem. Non-profit organizations, including our civic partners like Heritage Park and the Calgary Zoo and Arts Commons are really in very, very tough times right now," Nenshi said. "They're closed. They're losing their revenues. Their costs are continuing. Many have laid off staff."

Funding required for these organizations, the document says, is more than $131 million for one year.

Other organizations impacted include the Calgary Public Library, Tourism Calgary and Fort Calgary.

Affordable transportation

Finally, the document calls for more than $46 million in funding to sustain conventional and accessible transit service.

Transit revenue loss is expected to approach 70 per cent during the pandemic, which equates to a loss of $43.4 million in revenue.

Some of the funding would be allocated toward increased cleaning and sanitation of transit vehicles and equipment.

It's unclear whether or not the city will utilize the information contained in its response plan to the outbreak moving forward. City council is due to receive an update on its financial situation on Monday.

"This situation is very fluid and things are changing daily. The city continues to advocate on behalf of our community partners and non-profit social agencies to meet needs," Zickefoose said.

With files from Scott Dippel


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