Landing : Athabascau University

Establishing a Community-Centric Property Model for Growth and Prosperity


Environmental Studies 461: “Hatchet and Seed”

Establishing a Community-Centric Property Model for Growth and Prosperity

Meeting the City of Calgary’s Demand for Affordable Living.


                                         Fig. 1 “Calgary AB, Pride Parade – Love Proudly”


       It is possible to be torn between personal desires and community needs, especially in a world where the sustainable management of natural resources is imperative, necessitating that actions find collaborative means. The concept of individualism can come under scrutiny as a fabricated societal construct designed to further neoliberal motives and blindly guide one to egocentric actions and conspicuous consumption. However, some can also argue that it can lead to increased personal altruistic actions when individuals are well-informed (Douarin & Hinks, 2024). Most individuals understand the critical need for everyone in society to have access to housing within a supportive environment that promotes human development and sustainability. This is a fundamental right recognized by the United Nations (2024) and enshrined in Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act of 2019 (Government of Canada, 2023), and not just a mere commodity. Calgary, Alberta, serves as a prime example of a city experiencing rapid growth coupled with declining housing affordability, where over 84,600 households currently struggle to afford their homes, and an influx of 110,000 new residents is anticipated over the next five years (The City of Calgary, 2023). This dynamic growth has occurred during market uncertainty and with high and unpredictable inflation, reducing societal purchasing power for other critical needs. This project begins by examining the City of Calgary’s housing crisis, analyzing feedback on the Home is Here strategic action plan, and drawing lessons from other global regions and thought leaders. The project suggests that society must look beyond the collective limited beliefs of individualism and symptomatic treatment, that local policymakers and market leaders must enhance their collaborative efforts, and that a community-focused model must be established to bolster communal wealth. Furthermore, this project investigates alternative, non-market housing models that contribute to the sustained investment of affordable housing, equity-shared models and the flourishing of human growth.


Home is Here, The City of Calgary’s Housing Strategy 2024-2030

       The City of Calgary is grappling with an escalating housing affordability crisis, mirroring trends in many Canadian cities. Economists suggest that housing costs should not exceed 30 percent of a household’s income. Yet, the RBC Affordability Index indicates that numerous cities far exceed this benchmark, with the Canadian national average soaring to 63.5% for the expenses associated with owning an average-priced home (Hogue, 2024). The index utilizes the RBC Housing Affordability Measure, reflecting the proportion of median household income needed for mortgage payments, property taxes, and utilities based on the national average home prices. While Calgary’s figure of 48.3% is below the national average, RBC identifies it as “Canada’s current housing hotspot,” experiencing the country’s most rapid appreciation rate (Hogue, 2024). As for Calgary, data from 2023 shows a rental vacancy rate decline to 3%, down from 6% in 2020. Moreover, between 2020 and 2023, rent prices have escalated by roughly 40%, and the average cost of a single-family home has increased by 37% (The City of Calgary, 2023). The City of Calgary’s Housing and Affordability Task Force has proclaimed that “bold action is required for Calgary”  (2023, p. 13).

       In response to pressing needs, the City of Calgary’s Council sanctioned the Home is Here (2023) Housing Strategy on September 16, 2023, which outlines 98 actions. This strategy supersedes the Foundation for Home Housing strategy (2016-2025), which achieved partial success but encountered challenges in certain areas due to funding constraints, NIMBYism, and unexpected population growth, resulting in only a 26 percent reduction in homelessness (Crowther, 2018). The Home is Here plan, enhanced from its predecessor, began a thorough planning process in 2022. The City Council supported this new direction and established a diverse and experienced Housing and Affordability Task Force (HATF). From September 2022 to March 2023, the HATF diligently worked to deliver reports to the Council, leading to a public unveiling in May 2023 and the strategy’s definitive ratification in September 2023 (City of Calgary HATF, 2023).

       The HATF faced significant hurdles, particularly when the City Council dismissed the initial proposals on June 6, 2023, due to concerns that “the task force’s most contentious recommendation could backfire”(Gonzalez , 2023). One commendation, the prospect of blanket rezoning, aimed at diversifying housing types and expanding capacity, ignited a heated debate among the residents of Calgary (Chai, 2023), including the “biggest Public Hearing in Calgary’s history” (City of Calgary, 2024). Nonetheless, the City of Calgary was poised to benefit from the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Funding (Davis, Bowler, & Woodhead, 2023), which was dependent on meeting specific zoning criteria (Kanygin, 2023). The Home is Here plan sets forth ambitious goals, such as building 3,000 non-market housing units each year and establishing a pre-qualification system for city-owned land earmarked for non-market housing. The strategy includes a comprehensive advocacy plan to reduce the “stigma associated with affordable housing, supportive housing, and homelessness” (Chai, 2023), as well as initiatives to aid renters, repurpose downtown commercial spaces for residential use, and expedite the building permit process. The plan underscores the importance of collaboration between for-profit and non-profit organizations, engagement with all levels of government, and bolstered support for non-profit housing organizations.

       Collaboration is pivotal, encompassing various government tiers, market providers, and community stakeholders while addressing persistent challenges such as NIMBYism and market-driven objectives, as experienced by the HATF and previous attempts. Bruce Irvine, the City of Calgary’s Manager of Affordable Housing, has observed that “we still see ghosts of some old behaviours,” with governmental entities reluctant to commit until results are guaranteed (Gismondi , 2021). Alan Norris, CEO of Brookfield Residential and Chair of the former Foundation for Home Housing’s Resolve campaign, emphasizes that cutting-edge housing strategies must adeptly maneuver through policymaking, transit planning, and NIMBYism (Crowther, 2018). Dr. Sasha Tsenkova, a University of Calgary professor, emphasizes vigilance of “meaningful partnerships for the long term” across all government levels to stabilize the housing market (Molyneux, 2023). Concurrently, the President and Board Chair of the Calgary Housing Company (CHC) advocate for decisive measures, highlighting the growing disparity between CHC’s affordable rental programs and the nearest private market housing, which hinders households’ transition to private-sector options (Bridge & Jiang, 2023). The CHC also calls for investments to preserve and augment affordable housing stock and to secure land for prospective developments. As articulated by Dr. Sasha Tsenkova, affordable housing initiatives have “seen a lot of lot of programs, a lot of rhetoric, cutting ribbons here and there, and announcements. But it just requires a lot more than that; it is a commitment to livable and inclusive cities.”


It’s not just about supply! Shirking and circumventing the underlying cause.

       Byron Miller, a professor of urban studies at the University of Calgary, voices a critical perspective: “But if you’ve got virtually unlimited demand out there for speculative investments, focusing on the supply is not going to solve the problem” (Gonzalez , 2023). The city’s blanket rezoning initiative sparked considerable debate, with over 1000 speakers presenting arguments both for and against the policy at the Public Hearing (City of Calgary, 2024). Some argue that “upzoning alone is unlikely to meet such an ambitious goal” (Gonzalez, 2023). Alison Grittner, PhD, Assistant Professor of Spatial Justice Research at the University of Calgary and a HATF member, states, “There’s a lot of research [showing] that just increasing supply leads to gentrification… And it does not actually lead to more units of affordable housing” (Gonzalez , 2023). Experts caution that transitioning to high-density zoning with the aim of affordable housing carries significant risks without adequate non-market funding and an effective mechanism for distributing the generated value. Conversely, architects and urban planners who have long addressed housing affordability issues in Toronto and Vancouver support the concept of the ‘missing middle.’ They argue for smaller-scale developments rather than large towers, aiming to enhance density per square foot, thereby bolstering supply and affordability (CBC News, 2024).

       Some contend that one underlying cause stems from neoliberal policies, such as escalating land prices, and assert that merely increasing supply will not resolve the issue. Instead, they advocate for the implementation of innovative non-market strategies. Miller notes the absence of such mechanisms in the city’s strategy, and the HATF argues that the city lacks the capacity to implement effective and proportionate of non-market housing. The HATF initially proposed a 15 percent quota for non-market affordable housing in redeveloping neighbourhoods, but this was removed after successful opposition by BILD Alberta, representing homebuilders and developers (Gonzalez , 2023). “The real issue around housing affordability across Canada is one of financialization and neoliberal policies,” Grittner says, emphasizing that the market won’t solve the housing crisis because “it’s capitalism that created these issues, so you can’t come at it through a capitalist solution. You can’t look to developers to solve this problem” (Gonzalez , 2023). Nevertheless, the new ambitious plan designates funds for 3,000 new affordable housing units annually, despite current momentum as the CMHC data showing that the City of Calgary has produced fewer than 3,000 non-market units since 2004.


Community Land Trusts – Learning from other regions on capturing sustained value

       A debate surrounding the City of Calgary’s housing strategy largely revolves around capturing and retaining value from actions and investments. The subsequent sections will examine land trust mechanisms utilized in Canada and other global cities to distribute such value appropriately. There are two principal types of land trusts: one acquires land to conserve open spaces and farmland, while Community Land Trusts (CLTs) typically concentrate on housing and community development (Peterson, 1996). This project will explore the history of CLTs in relation to affordable living and the strategies employed to safeguard value creation, both at the point of land transfer and throughout the lifespan of a non-market project. Furthermore, studies indicate that CLTs maintain higher ownership rates and contribute to strengthening community bonds (Peterson, 1996).

       Despite variations in approaches, and with over 270 CLTs in the United States alone (Peterson, 1996), CLTs typically share a non-profit governance structure, including a limited-equity housing mechanism to build wealth for equity-deserving recipients. They employ diverse strategies and funding models and safeguard against new buyers' obstacles, such as predatory lending and tax burdens. CLTs either own or hold long-term leases (commonly 99 years) to mitigate land inflation while fostering community and land development. Homeownership recipients, or “Lessee Members” within a CLT, possess and govern their homes, participating in equity growth according to individual contribution. This model contrasts with renting, as members accrue equity through a mechanism that promotes shared prosperity, aligning with the CLT’s mission to ensure ongoing affordable housing. By removing land costs from the equation, CLTs become attractive to policymakers, especially during economic upturns, as they can utilize “limited subsidy for maximum benefits” (Farrell-Curtin & Bocarsly, 2008, p. 373).

       Established best practices underscore the importance of neighbourhood stabilization, market funding, default risk management, and city engagement to ensure the effective implementation and sustainability of CLT mechanisms. A cornerstone of efficacy is the CLT’s “Tri-Partite” governance structure, a democratically controlled body. This classic model comprises an elected board with three segments: (1) Lessee Members, (2) community residents who are not Lessee Members, and (3) public supporters. The Tri-Partite board also addresses potential conflicts of interest and the pursuit of tax exemptions for affordable ownership, which encompasses land acquisition, financing, and resale processes. Research highlights the recent successes of CLTs in various global locations, attributed to a broader acceptance of mechanisms that facilitate affordable housing, coupled with increased resources, experiences and expertise for CLT startups and a growing demand for permanent affordable housing solutions  (Farrell-Curtin & Bocarsly, 2008).

       The economic and justice-based concept of “social increment,” along with the separation of land utility from improvements, enhances social and collective efficacy and shields local residents from gentrification and lower default levels, such as those seen in subprime lending. The debate against Community Land Trusts (CLTs) often centers on the tension between wealth accumulation and affordability. A common belief is that individuals can “beat” the market to profit from real estate, using it as a means for retirement savings and security. However, as the RBC Affordability Index indicates, the rapid rate of increase makes this opportunity unattainable for most, positioning the CLT as a hybrid model straddling renting and ownership. Another critique of CLTs concerns the “dark side” of limited autonomy, constrained boundary-setting, and the risk of members “always on the verge of becoming [oppressed]” (Lovett, 2020, p. 638). Lovett contends that, while these concerns are valid, community membership, be it through church, work, school, or other civic engagements, is inherent to society, and CLTs are no exception. CLTs offer democratic and influential means for members to choose and empower community members “rather than being imposed through illiberal subordination” (Lovett, 2020, p. 638). Locally developed, small-scale CLTs can facilitate the entry and exit of equity-deserving populations, impart financial and societal skills, foster community growth, and enable participants to depart with enhanced well-being and capital for future endeavours. Given these unique properties and benefits, this project suggests that a further review of the CLT mechanisms could serve as a valuable tool in the City of Calgary’s housing strategy.


Thinking Differently - Decommodification of land

       At its core, the CLT mechanisms represent the decommodification of land for housing, akin to the concept of universal health care for medical needs. As emphasized by Grittner, the housing crisis will not be solved by conventional methods. In “Decommodification inaction: Common property as countermovement,” McLean and Peredo articulate that many other Western cities are in the same predicament as the City of Calgary (2019). As alluded to by Grittner, McLean and Peredo also critique neoliberal policies, such as the societal perception that economics is a “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” ignoring the common good of neighbours and communities in financial markets or GDP valuations. This critique echoes Karl Polanyi’s “economistic fallacy,” which has equated human life or labour as mere capital since the Industrial Revolution. This disconnect has been particularly pronounced since the 1980s, with the advent of neoliberal privatization policies and a market growth emphasis over community wellbeing. McLean and Peredo advocate for alternative frameworks that focus on decommodifying land to benefit the common good.

       Challenging society to transcend the confines of individualism and neoliberal conditioning presents a formidable task, as shown in the City of Calgary’s housing narrative. Limited beliefs often constrain efforts and lead to dismissing initiatives perceived as too radical, socialist, or utopian. Such proposals, measures or mechanisms can be hastily contested, potentially undermining the causes of the crisis and the ultimate outcome. Activists use the term “Prefigurative Politics,” which, despite at times being criticized as “hollow, naïve, or simply impractical” (Dixon, 2014), champions “new modes we create for living, relating, and organizing that invariably confront the dominant social order” (Dixon, 2014, p. 83). To detractors and critics of this ambitious vision, this approach mirrors individual, corporate, or national objectives, as it delineates a vision, mission, tactics, values, and principles to support the desired outcome. No different than any organization, business or individual with grandiose goals.  Engaging stakeholders is crucial for such endeavours, yet it also invites significant tension and resistance, sometimes even from those it intends to assist. In “Another Politics: Talking Across Transformative Movements,” Dixon highlights the push against entrenched inequitable power structures and cites several instances of change, including San Francisco’s CLTs, as a prime example of an alternative approach with historic success. In Common Ground – for Mutual Home Ownership - Community land trusts and shared-equity co-operatives to secure permanently affordable homes for key workers (2003), the article demonstrates the benefits of CLT’s mechanism in London, UK, during the dynamic housing crisis and discusses the relief supported to  “key workers” or middle-class service personnel such as health care, police, and fire who could not live near the cities they serve. These and many other research have shown the advantages of CLTs in facilitating mutual home ownership, thereby ensuring permanently affordable housing for essential workers and “middle-class” citizens, which in turn fosters a robust community. Contrary to some initial detractor’s perception, and one’s genuine values are aligned, these innovative mechanisms are “not a socialist concept, [but] a commonality in the land, water, minerals, and other natural resources” (Conaty, Birchall, & Foggitt, 2003, p. 3).


Key obstacles – Questioning the opponent

       In the pursuit of introducing a truly innovative mechanism to establish a new foundation for building equitable communities, stakeholders from various sectors encountered numerous political voices and challenges. Politicians, often bound by their constituents’ expectations, and the HATF members, reliant on political and market players’ approvals, face a complex landscape. As for for-profit market organizations, typically, these market players are small to medium-sized enterprises that must navigate through layers of government policies, fluctuating monetary policies, and the uncertainties of both national and global markets. Such navigation through a maze of positions and influences can lead to a deadlock in strategic improvements.

       In Community Land Trusts: Institutionalizing Human Flourishing (2020), Lovett contends that human well-being should be integral to implementing schemes like CLTs. He argues that board diversity and equitable funding models are essential to reinforce CLT mechanisms and ensure sustained governance. These elements enable recipients to make incremental equity payments and accumulate wealth through empowered pathways to homeownership. Viewing the other negotiators or parties as an opponent means losing control and likely some momentum, trust, and the ability to influence. The “Tri-Partite” framework has a proven history of aligning with the values of diverse community members and being a powerful resource for communal development work. Lovett also identifies other barriers to adopting such mechanisms, including municipal worries about diminished property tax revenues, the complexities of lending models and land transactions, and the absence of uniform legislation. On these barriers, Lovett informs that “roadblocks can be alleviated and already overcome in many places” (Lovett, 2020, p. 639). Lovett further denotes that investments are further enhanced within a symbiotic relationship between the municipality and CLTs. Lovett finishes by underscoring two significant obstacles: inadequate funding and the unspoken, perhaps unrealistic, but deeply ingrained belief that regardless of our economic status, entering the real estate market will invariably lead to significant profits without fail. Two concerns need further discussion, the latter being an “ineffable” obstacle, as per Lovett (2020, p. 640). 

       In summary, the City of Calgary’s efforts to develop and launch the Home is Here housing plan was met with challenges such as NIMBYism, the difficulty of obtaining public approvals, and conflicting agendas, which may or will stymie well-meaning initiatives. For any city to implement profound change, the strategy must stem from its citizens’ collective convictions, directly confronting neoliberal tendencies and nurturing a sense of individualism that harmonizes with the common good and the resolute aim of addressing the underlying causes.


Discussion and Conclusion

       As Calgary enters the inaugural year of the Home Is Here program, it is projected that approximately 80% of the initiatives will commence by the end of 2024 (City News, 2024). However, the course of action remains contentious. Councillor Dan McLean of Ward 13 expresses reservations about the strategy, criticizing it for incrementally providing affordable housing in peripheral communities rather than expediting affordability in the city’s established areas. Similarly, Councillor Andre Charot of Ward 10 observes that the current measures have only raised further inquiries. He emphasizes the necessity of concentrating on non-market housing, given that the private sector’s construction of residential properties, valued at 6 billion dollars annually, pales in comparison to the impact of non-market efforts. That said, the City states that they have never been more committed and engaged to citizen’s needs for affordable housing (City News, 2024). Drawing from Dixon’s insights in ‘In the World but Not of It,’ social transformation must endure the uncomfortable tension between the existing state of affairs and our aspirations. This ‘double vision’ allows one to perceive both realities simultaneously (Dixon, 2014). The paper argues that significant change requires a profound examination of the underlying beliefs and conscious and unconscious conditioning. The question remains: Are the City of Calgary and other economies under the influence of neoliberal policies prepared to confront, collaborate, and enact meaningful change? More crucially, are individuals willing to embark on a journey of substantial transformation for the collective good of the community?


                                               Fig. 2 “Choosing Our Personal Journeys”


Author’s note

       From a young age, I had the privilege of competing as a martial artist and learning valuable lessons. Professionally, I was fortunate enough to win the North American International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) Light-Cruiserweight Championship and later compete against World Champions. As an athlete, a key lesson learned was the importance of confronting reality and addressing the underlying causes of performance gaps. Beyond physical prowess, an athlete’s mindset—commitment, beliefs, the power of compounded actions, value alignment, thought patterns, and vision planning—must be addressed. Without this mental focus, confidence may wane when facing an opponent.

       Throughout my career, I faced several world champions, and despite not securing a win, I learnt a valuable lesson that my greatest adversary was my own mental conditioning, not a physical opponent. If I could advise my younger self, I would emphasize that true power resides within the mind. Maintaining a focus on love—which encompasses justice, courage, curiosity, trust, and so much more—keeps an athlete present and mindful, rather than succumbing to fear and anger, which sap energy and put the athlete at risk. The athlete must understand the underlying causes of gaps and then build a vision and a supportive community or ‘village’ to eliminate them, laying the groundwork for success. As displayed by my daughter in Figure 1, “love proudly,” not because it is just the right thing to do, but because it affords an individual the most strength and resilience toward achieving their destination.

       I have applied these martial arts lessons, including those enforced by coaches, managers, and fellow athletes of the “village,” in my real estate portfolio, business dealings and the art of negotiation. I have read extensively on team building and negotiations, applying these skills to lead and negotiate over $100 million in business deals over my thirty-year career and with many people in the organizations referred to or implied in this paper. Viewing the other negotiator or party as an opponent means losing control and likely some momentum, trust, and the ability to influence and expand the zone of creative and mutual gain. In negotiations, one must remain equanimous, curious, and detached from initial ‘positions’ if the goal is to understand the beliefs and true intentions behind the parties’ stances or ‘influences.’ Once genuine influences are uncovered, values can often be further aligned, commitments strengthened, and open, collaborative discussions can lead to creative solutions that fulfill the objectives and exponentially advance toward a shared, ambitious goal. Without this framework, parties become defensive, protective and competitive. This collaborative approach is often debated but has served me well.

       I have applied this approach to many roles, such as sports, business, and life, but can it be applied to influence a project and the societal mindset of such a crucial project? As I end my Hatchet and Seed project and journey, I’m armed with critical thought, which has begun to pave a path worth taking. My hope is that we all challenge true underlying causes and pave a new collective path.


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