University of Calgary

Alberta's homeless population concentrated in Calgary

UToday HomeSeptember 29, 2011

New research released today by The School of Public Policy finds that Alberta's homeless population is disproportionately concentrated in Calgary.

Authored by Ronald Kneebone, Herb Emery and Oksana Grynishak, the study measures homeless shelter usage across the province in 2009. Despite Edmonton and Calgary being similar in total population, 63 percent of all shelter use in the province was in Calgary while only 28 percent was in the provincial capital.

As for the causes of this large gap, the authors pinpoint three economic factors: the supply of rental accommodation, the state of the labour market and the rate of in-migration.

However, the authors argue that the overriding factor is the supply of rental accommodation or affordable housing.

As Calgary's labour market expands, more and more people are attracted to the city, therefore increasing the demand for rental accommodation. Data used in the study indicates that there are 38 rental units per 1,000 people in Calgary.

"With a small and falling supply of rental accommodations and the local housing market's failure to expand supply, this results in upward pressure on shelter use," the authors write.

Meanwhile, in Edmonton there is a larger supply of affordable housing at 86 units per 1,000 people. The authors argue this allows the city to adjust more easily to in-migration and curtails their homelessness numbers.

The authors note with concern the possibility that the recent fall in shelter use is due to the recent slowdown in the Calgary economy and that shelter use will increase again when the economy recovers.

Therefore, the authors recommend that ways be found "to engage the energy and efficiency of the private sector" to increase the supply of rental accommodations in Calgary. In this way shelter use might permanently be reduced. Based on previous research by The School of Public Policy, possible measures could include implementing a housing tax credit modeled on the US Low Income Housing Tax Credit; relaxing current rules for investors in multi-unit rental buildings on the use of the capital cost allowance when there is a rental loss; and controls on demolition and condominium conversions.

The paper can be found at http://policyschool.ucalgary.ca/publications