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Diana Bliss has been watching one of the units in her affordable housing complex sit empty for more than a month.

Across the city, Ann sees the same problem. From her kitchen window, she can see three empty units in a property managed by Calgary Housing — one, she said, has been empty for more than three months.

Calgary Housing has a wait list of 5,000 families, but officials admit turnaround is a problem and empty units mean some Calgarians in need of cheaper housing can’t get access to it.

“It’s progressively gotten worse,” said Ann, who’s lived across the Calgary Housing property in northwest Calgary for 18 years. CBC News has agreed not to use her full name because she’s afraid speaking with the media would affect her job in the public service sector.

“A dangerous number of people are in the system that don’t have housing. To see these units just go empty, or there’s still stuff in it but nobody’s cleaned it out … I find it disheartening.”

Bliss and Ann are two of several people who flagged empty Calgary Housing units and growing maintenance issues to CBC Calgary on the text messaging platform, where we’ve been asking about housing since the fall.

According to Calgary Housing officials, the issues are over-stringent provincial rules for hiring contractors and maintenance funding cuts from the province. It means up to 150 units are sitting vacant, staying that way for months.

For Bliss, her Calgary Housing building is a major improvement from where she last lived. But she’s frustrated by maintenance issues that go unaddressed — like broken mailbox doors, plumbing concerns and a large patched hole in her lobby’s ceiling from a water leak a month ago.

“All of the maintenance is deferred for as long as possible,” said Bliss. “I think that’s what’s going on.”

Officials say budget cuts mean the problem could get worse.

Renters in Calgary are facing steep increases. Average rent for a two-bedroom in Calgary increased by 25 per cent to $1,920 from last year, according to, and renters are now facing the lowest vacancy rate in nearly a decade.

Some have told CBC Calgary they’re sleeping on friends’ couches, taking unsafe basement suites or even checking into emergency departments with mental health crises, when the real problem is a lack of housing they can afford.

Red tape and funding cuts

When CBC took community concerns to Calgary Housing acting president Bo Jiang, he said it’s true that turnaround times are a problem.

He says it’s because of Calgary Housing’s 7,200 units, some are owned by Calgary Housing, some by the City of Calgary and some by the Government of Alberta.

For Calgary Housing and city-owned units, it takes approximately 30 days for new tenants to move in. But for provincially-owned units (around 2,700 of them), that average turnaround rate is 10 weeks.

The province owns the property that Ann has an eye on.

According to provincial rules, any of their units with more than $5,000 in maintenance — which is most units, says Jiang — must go through a public tender process. So the empty units are put on hold until up to 35 units needing work can be bundled and bid on by contractors.

It can take 90 to 120 days to assign a contractor to do the work, says Jiang.

In his time as acting president, he’s been trying to change that.

“What we’re working with the province on is trying to go for a standing offer type where they short-list individual companies across the province that have the capacity to respond immediately as units become available,” said Jiang.

Maintenance budget cut

Jiang said other problem is the province’s capital and maintenance renewal funding allocation for seniors and affordable housing has been decreasing.

In 2021, that sector received $49.2 million in the provincial budget.

That went down to $38 million in 2022.

This year, it decreased further to $32 million.

Jiang cautions that if the trend continues, issues with maintenance and turnaround times could get worse.

“The biggest thing with capital maintenance and renewal is that it’s the lifeblood of our unit turnaround. So if nothing else, we need that to maintain the acceptable minimum standards for housing,” said Jiang.

If the dollars aren’t there, when people leave a unit, “the lack of funding may prevent us from turning a unit,” he says.

“[Calgary Housing] has an obligation to not provide housing that does not meet our minimum housing standards and as such, we will close down those units due to a lack of funding.”

He says about six years ago, hundreds of provincial units were taken out of circulation because of a lack of funding. They eventually returned to the market once funding stabilized.

That’s not what the situation is today, he says, but it’s important to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

It also means they have to prioritize unit turnaround over maintenance, he says, because fixing a building could mean shutting units down and not having the money to bring them back.

When asked for comment, the provincial government did not address decreases in funding or citizens’ concerns about maintenance and turnaround times.

Hunter Baril, press secretary for minister of seniors, community and social services Jeremy Nixon, instead said the province is spending more than $1 billion over three years for affordable housing.

“We continue to work with the Calgary Housing Company in housing Albertans, which is why we are providing them with $6.8 million in [capital and maintenance renewal] funding, including funding that has carried over from previous years.”

Calgary Housing hasn’t gotten official word on those details yet, so they couldn’t compare that to previous years.


Story by: CBC News