Calgary housing crunch forcing workers into shelters FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 26 May 1998 09:00:18 -0700 (PDT)

FWD 2 related articles
FWD 1 of 2  Calgary Herald -  Saturday 23 May 1998


     Ron Collins, Calgary Herald

After 14 years of steady unemployment in Saskatchewan, Dan Peters decided
to pull up stakes and try his luck in Calgary.

"I got here on a Sunday and I was working on Monday," he said.

But after a year, Peters, 36, is still searching for affordable housing.

Work in Calgary has been steady for the laborer. The problem: Peters has
been unable to find a permanent residence. Like countless others, he spends
his nights trying to get some sleep on a mattress at the Calgary Drop-In
Centre. "Any place that's half reasonable in price is gone within minutes,
and it's hard to find a place when you're working steady," Peters said.

He earns $7.50 an hour and complains "the rents are just too high."

Jens Drape faces a similar predicament. He came to Calgary from Thunder
Bay, Ont., in December looking for work.

Construction work -- mainly roofing and carpentry jobs -- have come easily.
But he, too, remains without a permanent roof over his head. "There has to
be more affordable housing in this city," he said.

Drape, who believes there are hundreds of people like him, said he knows
one couple with two kids, living out of a van. "You get discouraged. There
is work here, that's not the problem. It's just finding a place to live.

"I've looked at some places that I've wanted to rent, but by the time I get
the money together for first month's rent and the damage deposit, they're

"There's too many people coming to town and not enough housing."

Living at the Drop-In Centre is frustrating, Peters said.

"There's no privacy. You can't watch what you want on TV. There's 140
people in the same room every night."

The Salvation Army has operated the downtown 18-bed 'House' since last
December, for homeless, working men.

For $80 a month, they get three meals a day and the opportunity to
accumulate their money so they can come up with enough for a first month's
rent and equal damage deposit.

"A one-bedroom apartment is going for about $520 a month plus the equal
damage deposit," said Maj. Reg Newbury.

He estimates that about 40 per cent of the men in the Salvation Army
emergency shelter have full-time jobs.

In addition to the House, the Salvation Army operates two major facilities
downtown-- the Booth Centre and the Anchorage Centre. Booth holds 250 men a
night; Anchorage, 85.

"We had to turn away 40 men last night," Newbury said. "It's a staggering

As Calgary's population grows by 20,000 people per year, "the problems will
grow at this end. There's a down side to these kinds of things."

Making matters worse, landlords are cashing in on the boom by jacking up
rents. "They're taking advantage of the market while it's hot," Newbury

The city's Calhome Properties operates 2,800 subsidized housing units and
1,100 that are private but receive subsidy.

There's a waiting list of about 1,100.

FWD 2 of 2 Sunday 24 May 1998 - Juliet Williams, Calgary Herald


  Part Two of Two

  Saturday: The Challenge

An abundance of jobs are luring newcomers in droves. But a shortage of
accommodation is forcing    hundreds of working Calgarians into emergency

  Today: Seeking Solutions

The city's corporate community is joining forces with the city and
social-services agencies to look for long-term solutions.

One of the city's top business leaders is counting on corporate Calgary's
can-do spirit to find solutions to an urgent housing crunch.

"I think the private sector will belly up to the bar and recognize it's
responsible for creating a large part of this problem," said Art Smith,
former MP, MLA and alderman.

Smith has created the Calgary Homeless Foundation to aid the city's 3,800
homeless. Calgary is ballooning by 20,000 residents a year, drawn by a hot
economy and ample job prospects.

"I just couldn't believe it when I learned how many people were without
shelter in our city," said Smith, former chairman of SNC Lavalin Inc. and
now a senior adviser at the multinational engineering firm's petroleum

An estimated 45 per cent of users of city emergency shelters work but have
no place to live.  The lack of affordable housing -- the city's vacancy
rate is less than one per cent -- puts even greater pressure on Calgarians
on social services, the mentally ill and others scrambling to find
long-term shelter.

The foundation will raise funds for damage deposits, build a shelter and
work with housing and social services agencies to help the needy find

It will examine the city's report on Calgary's homeless, to be released

On Friday, city administrators revealed plans -- still to be approved by
council -- for a $1-million fund to stimulate private sector and provincial
funding for low-cost housing.

As of April 1, there were 1,260 people on a waiting list for city social
housing units. There are 800 downtown shelter spaces.

Don Doolan, president of Talisman Homes and a member of the Calgary Home
Builders Association board, said Smith's plan sounds like something
builders could support.

But the initiative needs to be a collective effort, because simply raising
money isn't the solution, said Doolan.

This month Mayor Al Duerr urged homebuilders to create more low-cost
housing, saying that 10,000 Calgarians are just a paycheque or crisis away
from being homeless.

"Many people, especially new arrivals, simply can't afford the estimated
$2,000 required for their first month's rent, damage deposits and utility
hookups," Duerr said at a meeting of the Calgary Home Builders Association.

Most of the housing under construction will serve the upper end of the
single-family market.

Home builders will meet next week to decide whether to accept Duerr's
challenge to build more low-cost housing.

Judy Bader of the city's department of community and social development
said the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association are on
board, and the new foundation will encourage even broader community

"Money will help, but money isn't the only way you can contribute," Bader

The new foundation board also has members from churches, social groups and
the City of Calgary.

Private companies have promised funding to the foundation, said Smith, and
the city and province are providing office space and staff out of the
MacDougall Centre downtown.

He said the organization will complement other group.


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