— Core Questions —

Why Kids Belong Downtown

Anti-child discrimination in housing comes into focus as group forms to fight it

Anti-child discrimination in housing comes into focus as group forms to fight it

 

Should our downtown and core neighbourhoods welcome kids and families? It’s a question that’s about to get messier than a playpen in Alberta.

As you may have read or experienced, in Alberta a landlord can still refuse to rent to tenants with children, and a condominium board can still evict an owner (yes, an owner) or resident who contravenes an adult-only building bylaw by having the audacity to get pregnant.

Ouch, right? Well, it depends who you ask.

Many Albertans opine that kids disrupt what’s apparently guaranteed to be a placid condo lifestyle — or so social media commentary suggests. And as these commenters often add, what parent would choose to raise their child in a downtown apartment or condo, when we have perfectly nice suburbs, exurbs and bedroom communities for that?

The conversation about where kids and families belong in Edmonton became heated this spring when, in April, the Child Friendly Housing Coalition of Alberta (CFHCA) launched a campaign to end age based discrimination in housing. The group had its eye firmly on areas like Oliver and downtown, which see large amounts of multi-unit apartment and condominium housing and often, child-blocking age restrictions applied to that housing.

The group has been spurred to act by a January 2017 high court decision that, by next year, will see Alberta become the last Canadian province to add age as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The province also has until next year to decide which age discriminations it will uphold (think needing to be 16 to drive, 18 to drink, and so on).

Some developers and industry advocates are hoping the government keeps adult-only housing as one form of legal age discrimination.

Aside from the laws, however, what many seem unable to grasp is the choice bit. Some of us choose to live downtown or in Oliver because we prefer that to other options. We’re not just saving up for the ‘burbs, and we might also want to have children while living here.

Imagine!

But when it comes to choice, there’s often little of it in downtown and Oliver for housing that’s usable for a family (three bedroom apartments, condos or townhomes) in Edmonton.

Why?

Raj Dhunna, CEO of Regency Developments, told the National Post in April that the cost to build townhouse units—for example, three bedroom, multi-unit housing—puts their price uncomfortably close to what a buyer can find a single-detached home selling for in a greenfield suburb. Dhunna said that made these units hard to sell, and that’s why he and other developers don’t really build them.

As a 30-something millennial who’s lived in an apartment her entire adult life, I’m always perplexed by arguments like Dhunna’s. They assume all consumers make housing choices based solely on economic factors, rather than a web of social, economic, transportation and lifestyle preferences.

They also assume we will always choose the suburbs in lieu of the urban life that we love, if they’re cheaper. Such comments also plunge me into selfdoubt. By still living in an apartment, am I pathetically trying to extend my youth? Do I lack the gene that allows other adults to enjoy lawn care?

Hard to say, but I don’t seem to be an outlier.

The City of Edmonton’s 2015 Growth Monitoring Report states that, “vibrant and attractive urban cores have begun to change the way in which we plan. Millennials’ […] movement into urban centres has helped shift investment from the suburbs, and developers and businesses have begun to follow, by building condominiums and locating businesses in these urban areas in an attempt to capitalize on this generation’s desired lifestyle.”

A shift to investment in urban areas like downtown and Oliver can only work if people of all ages are welcome. That must include parents, kids and families.

If you agree and want to end discrimination against children in housing, there’s now a group you can add your voice to.

Chelsey Jersak lives in one of downtown’s kid-friendly condos. She’s the founder and principal of Situate, a municipal planning and placemaking firm, and a founding member of CFHCA. For more information, see cfhca.ca.