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Alberta proposes tax exemptions to increase affordable housing as part of Bill 20

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The Alberta government announced new initiatives and tools for municipalities to increase the amount of affordable housing available across the province.

These would be changes to the Municipal Government Act as part of the controversial Bill 20, which has received criticism from municipalities in Alberta.

Proposed amendments to the act include fully exempting non-profit subsidized affordable housing from municipal and education property taxes.

Another proposed change would allow municipalities to offer multi-year residential property tax exemptions.

The provincial government is also proposing new rules around public hearings, including requiring digital options for attendance.

"We're also encouraging municipalities to make decisions in a timely manner, which is why we are restricting the ability for municipalities to hold extra public hearings that are not required by legislation," said Ric McIver, minister of municipal affairs.

"We are also proposing to limit the ability of municipalities to require non-statutory studies for building and developing permits."

So far this year, there have been nearly 10,000 new housing construction projects in the province, an increase from 6,200 at the same time in 2023, according to Jason Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services. One third of the housing starts this year are for rental units.

"There are so many barriers to building more homes that we have the power to remove and with this legislation, we will address these barriers encouraging more efficiency, which ultimately gets more shovels in the ground," Nixon said.

The province aims to support 82,000 more low-income households by 2031, added Nixon.

Outside of the changes in Bill 20, the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) program criteria will also be expanded to include the capital costs of privately-owned affordable or attainable housing.

"The CRL program has already seen great success in Calgary and Edmonton and other communities like Cochrane and Airdrie are using it as well," McIver said.

"Our goal is that this approach gives cities one more tool they can consider using to address housing issues at the local level."

Changes to the city charters in Edmonton and Calgary have also been proposed by the province.

These include: allowing developers to appeal offsite levies to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal, removing provisions around inclusionary housing zoning and repealing the cities' authority to create bylaws related to building codes and energy efficiency standards.

According to McIver, these changes will mean less uncertainty from builders and lower costs for homes.

"Alberta needs one building code. Now, this doesn't stop a municipality if they want to incent a higher standard of environmental equipment in a home, but they don't have the ability to demand it as a condition of building a home that way," McIver said.

"If we were to allow that, in my opinion that would probably get less housing built at a time when more housing is exactly what we need."

Officials with the City of Edmonton say the changes will make things more expensive for developers.

"We've had feedback from the development industry that more stringent energy codes can add additional costs to the construction of a building," the city's Kim Petrin said.

While the city can't approve projects anymore, they can still incentivize companies to break ground.

"The team is looking at how applications that have green elements to them that we'd be able to expedite those applications."

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi says the city's development industry has been innovative in finding ways to build better and reduce emissions.

"They're taking actions on their own to make buildings more sustainable and energy efficient. We will continue to incentivize and support our industry to do so."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach

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