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What’s Keeping Us from Helping People Find a Home?


"We believe that everyone has a right to a roof over their head, as long as that roof doesn’t cast shade onto our residential status quo." (from an OPED I wrote for the Calgary Herald today)


Several years ago, I received a notice from the City of Calgary looking for input on a new Attainable Homes project being proposed for our neighbourhood. My initial response was selfish—we’ll lose greenspace, have more traffic and noise, and the fabric of our community might change.


Talking on the street with neighbours, we wondered if now was a good time to sell our homes.


What’s ironic about this self-centred response was that one of my children had just purchased an Attainable Homes unit in another part of the city!


Such is the human heart. We support equitable policies when they benefit us. We see the ‘cost’ of increased density as a reasonable thing—for other neighbourhoods, or busier streets. We believe that everyone has a right to a roof over their head, as long as that roof doesn’t cast shade onto our residential status quo.


Reading about the furor over the City of Calgary’s proposed residential zoning changes—changes that aim to provide homes for real families and individuals, so that they too can have a life, continue to work in our city, and be part of our collective flourishing—it seems that many are not interested in ‘sacrificing’ for this greater good. Even as affordable housing is crucial for maintaining our collective Alberta advantage (strong economy and property values), people are reticent to pay a perceived residential cost to help make that possible.


Our desire to be good neighbours, it seems, is incongruent with our actions.


Yet, when we choose to make room for others, we become neighbours in the truest sense—more selfless and hospitable.


It’s not like any of us is being asked to do anything extreme, like give up our home. We’re simply being asked to scootch over a bit and make room for a few newcomers—people who didn’t buy when the market was as accessible as it was for us.


Altruism aside, I think there may be a huge upside to increasing the density of our communities. We’ll have more people to bump into and get to know, and more taxpayers to help keep our residential tax rates low. More community members will mean more community resources—more volunteers, snow-shovelers, and neighbours to borrow tools from. In established neighbourhoods, there will be more children, more eyes on the streets, and more attendees at community events. 


There have been all kinds of benefits that have come from the new Attainable Homes project in our neighbourhood. The buildings themselves are beautiful and actually block some the traffic noise from a local thoroughfare. The city planning department listened to our community’s input and situated the units in a way that maintained most of our treasured green space. And, the truth is, it’s been great to meet new neighbours. It turns out that I’ve known one of these neighbour for years as we’ve connected at our local pool. She needed affordable housing after her divorce.


As a faith leader, I’ve preached many sermons on God’s hospitable heart; on a God who always has room for everyone. And yet, when it comes to reflecting God’s heart, I fall short. I don’t want to give up my privacy, space, view, or parking spot.


The fight over housing policy, it seems, is actually playing out in me. There is a part of me that doesn’t want others to have what I have (mostly by good fortune) if it’s going to cost me anything. That’s hard to admit given how much my home means to me.


I know how much of a gift it is to own a home—the sense of security, economic stability, beauty, and pride of ownership. Throughout this housing crisis, I’ve found myself increasingly thankful for my walls, furniture, and heat.


I know what having a home means, so, why wouldn’t I want this for everyone? The ‘inconvenience’ of increased density is a small cost to pay to make this gift available to others.

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