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Bill 20 amendments meant to support affordable housing projects

Proposed amendments would fully exempt non-profit subsidized affordable housing from municipal and education property taxes.
Premier Danielle Smith proposed new tools for municipalities to accelerate affordable and attainable housing development. Government of Alberta photo

Alberta’s government proposed new tools for municipalities to accelerate affordable and attainable housing development, but Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis) said these tools could be improved through consultation with organizations like them.

The Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 20) is set to amend the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to support the construction of affordable and attainable housing, while ABmunis is calling to scrap Bill 20.

“They need to hear back from the municipal leaders,” said Airdrie’s Mayor Peter Brown. “We've been doing this a long time and respectfully there are a lot of elected MLAs in the legislature that came from the municipal government, so I'd be curious to hear what they think as well.”

Proposed amendments would fully exempt non-profit subsidized affordable housing from municipal and education property taxes.

Brown noted eliminating affordable housing projects from property taxation, as well as the education tax, is a huge burden lifted for most non-profits.

“It's a really good, sustainable way to move forward with affordable housing that serves the most vulnerable,” Brown said. 

The changes to the MGA will also enable municipalities to offer multi-year residential property tax exemptions to encourage more housing development.

While Brown appreciated the intent of these changes, he said exempting development from taxation means those costs fall onto the rest of the taxpayers.

“If you take a dollar away, someone has to find that dollar,” Brown said. 

“Nothing's really been discussed yet," he added, "but the incentives are a good way to offset costs associated with development. Always remember that affordable housing is a provincial responsibility, not a municipal one.”

He said housing is still an issue that needs to be addressed at a provincial level. 

If the legislation passes, municipalities will be able to support the capital costs of privately-owned affordable or attainable housing, such as office-to-residential conversions, as long as the development is appropriate for the area and will lead to more homes.

Criteria for the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) program will also be expanded to spur additional housing development. 

Another amendment includes mandatory digital options for public hearings and development; so residents can easily participate in decisions impacting their communities. Extra public hearings that are not required by legislation will be restricted in order to encourage quicker decision making.

“I'm happy to see that the Minister and the Premier and their cabinet is looking forward to connecting with ABMunis, [Rural Municipalities of Alberta] (RMA), other municipalities, and Mid-Sized Cities Mayors’ [Caucus] and getting feedback on some of these changes that are being proposed,” Brown said. “There's a lot more to come, in my opinion, based on what the original intent was.”

He added that many changes within Bill 20 will require a framework before municipalities really know how it will affect them.

He pointed to the fact that the Provincial government could remove elected officials, and questioned the process, and how it would be rolled out.

“I'm still very cautious around Bill 20,” he said.

“From the moment Bill 20 was introduced on April 25, ABmunis has strenuously objected to the provincial government’s attempted power grab and repeatedly signalled its eagerness to sit down with Minister Ric McIver and his team,” stated a press release from ABMunis.

Members of ABmunis are concerned about many unintended consequences of the bill, including potentially tilting Alberta’s political playing field in favour of candidates who enjoy the financial backing of corporations and unions.

“It might disqualify otherwise eligible voters from exercising their democratic right to vote,” their press release stated.

Masha Scheele

About the Author: Masha Scheele

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