Opinion: Pro-business housing market keeps Edmonton affordable

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Alberta continues to shatter records. During the third quarter of 2022, total net migration in Alberta was 52,582, including migrants from both outside of Canada and from other provinces.

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Nationally, trends show young adults aged 25-44 are leaving cities like Vancouver and Toronto due to a combination of unaffordable, unsuitable or insufficient housing options and thousands are landing in Alberta.

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In Edmonton, work to make this city a realistic place for them to move to continues to pay off. The latest good news on that front landed earlier this week as the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) ranked Edmonton as a national leader in addressing housing affordability and supply issues.

CHBA’s 2022 Municipal Benchmarking Study looked at three categories to come up with its rankings: approval timelines, government charges, and planning features. When these factors are taken together, Edmonton takes the top spot nationally. While there is always more work to do to ensure that affordability is preserved, and not further eroded, this is positive momentum to build on.

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From 2016 to 2021, Edmonton saw its population increase by almost 78,000 to 1,010,899 — a 2.81-per-cent change. The City Plan, which maps out the city’s growth over the next decades, envisions our communities welcoming a million more people. That kind of growth will not happen on its own.

The City of Edmonton needs to provide clear and predictable regulations and quick timelines to homebuilders and developers. The public and private sectors also need to work together to foster a healthy housing market, a great quality of life, and attract good-paying jobs and opportunities for future Edmontonians now in other cities in Canada and around the world.

Over the last decade, the housing industry and City of Edmonton have worked together to meet these goals. This co-operation is now helping to solve our country’s challenge with adequate supply and speed-to-market for housing. This teamwork is also one of the reasons why the city saw a significant surge in development applications during the pandemic, while rates in other cities cooled.

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This co-ordination in attracting investment is visible on many fronts.

City-building partners: The growth of Edmonton hinges on the collaboration between public, private and community sectors. When changes to development processes are proposed, the city engages all sectors to better understand the impacts and opportunities.

Clear and permissive regulations: Edmonton was one of the first major Canadian cities to remove parking minimums — barriers to affordable housing and business development. In the past decade, the city has amended its zoning bylaw to support a range of land uses, buildings, developments, and investments. This has also meant abolishing single-family-only zoning to enable diverse housing options in all areas of the city. Currently, the city is streamlining its zoning bylaw to reduce the number of zones and land uses — to eliminate redundancies and create clarity.

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Easy and quick processes: Edmonton is a national leader in embracing progressive approaches to make its permitting, licensing and regulatory services easier to understand, more predictable and more efficient. The city continues to invest in the online customer experience. Applicants can find out how long processing times are, thanks to the city’s website. During the pandemic, the city conducted safety code inspections virtually. Edmonton also continues to lead in the application of process automation and artificial intelligence in permitting, licensing and regulatory services.

The CHBA ranking is part of the ongoing story here.

Edmonton’s typical approval timeline for development applications is less than half of what it is in either Vancouver or Toronto. When it comes to electronic and payment capabilities, availability of key planning documents and accountability, Edmonton is cited as “Best in Class.” These are important wins for people considering building a home in Edmonton, because time is money and time is square footage.

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A three-month delay can add $8-$10 per square foot during pre-construction and $4-$6 per square foot during construction. To put this into context, $10,000 to $50,000 added to the price of an entry-level home can price 7,591 to 36,998 households out of the market. Redundant policy, timelines, and cost can erode affordability for the end user.

Municipalities across the country know their residents want adequate housing supplies and speed-to-market for developments. Moving forward, it is critical that we continue to create a business-friendly environment that provides a clear and predictable picture of requirements, timelines, best practices and costs. This is a way to grow the city’s tax base. This is a way to attract more residents. And this is the way to welcome more and more people to a place we think is a pretty remarkable place to call home: Edmonton.

Andre Corbould is city manager of Edmonton.

Susan Keating is the chair of the Urban Development Institute – Edmonton Metro and vice-president of community development at Melcor.

Charles Fay is the president of Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA) – Edmonton Region and vice-president at Jayman BUILT (Edmonton).


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