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Justin and Brooke Simaluk are trying to find a larger place to live in so they can stay in Calgary's downtown core on Jan. 11.Todd Korol/Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Brooke and Justin Simaluk have lived in Calgary’s inner city since they married six years ago, and in 2021 they purchased a two-bedroom apartment in the Beltline – but it wasn’t their ideal choice.

“When we first started looking to buy, we were looking for a three-bedroom with the idea of a family in mind,” Ms. Simaluk says. “But it became apparent very quickly that our options were extremely limited, and if we wanted a three-bedroom, we would have to take on a mortgage that was outside of our [budget].”

Perched in the 11th floor of a building constructed in the 1970s, the nearly 900-square-foot apartment has enabled the millennial couple to enjoy the perks of living in Calgary’s densest neighbourhood.

“We’re in a community that offers all the things that we want,” Mr. Simaluk says, noting the proximity to services and amenities, including his wife’s work. “It allows us to have this car-light lifestyle and walk everywhere.”

But the family plans of the Simaluks seem to be at odds with their lifestyle preferences, as finding a reasonably priced, three-bedroom unit in Calgary’s inner city has proven a challenge. Like many Calgarians in their mid-30s, though, they’d rather stay where they currently are to raise a family.

“We don’t want to be forced to move into a situation where we take on more debt with a car [and] expand our environmental footprint,” Ms. Simaluk says. “It’s a shame that we don’t have more family options in the walkable communities.”

Despite Calgary’s relative affordability, housing choice isn’t distributed equally across the city, and finding a reasonably priced three-bedroom home in the suburbs is easier than in the inner city.

“It’s frustrating that there’s not a lot of three-bedroom choices,” Mr. Simaluk says, noting that they’re not seeking to get more bang for their buck, they just want enough space to raise a family.

Ever since they purchased their Beltline condo, the Simaluks have continued their search for a larger unit, but the three-bedrooms they’ve encountered in the Beltline and adjacent neighbourhoods range between $600,000 to upward of $800,000, a price point that’s closer to the benchmark price of single family homes than of apartments, and well beyond the Simaluks’ budget, even with the advantages of owning one car only.

“The cost of buying an extra car to live in the suburbs, we would happily pay for that on a condo that’s big enough for our needs if we remain in the city,” Ms. Simaluk says.

Unsurprisingly, despite being the most densely populated neighbourhood in Calgary, the Beltline also has some of the smallest household sizes and less than 20 per cent of families have children living at home.

“I just feel like in Calgary there’s a lack of a choice,” Ms. Simaluk says. “You’re trapped into the type of family you can be.”

According to Alkarim Devani, a Calgary real estate developer and president of RNDSQR, a growing number of families aspire to remain in the walkable, amenity-rich neighbourhoods of Calgary’s inner city, but the costs associated to mid-rise construction aren’t conducive to the creation of reasonably priced three-bedroom apartments.

“When you build mid-rise buildings, typically they come with higher code [and] construction cost requirements,” Mr. Devani says. “So it’s really just not feasible to build three-bedroom condos.”

A lack of supply, however, doesn’t mean there’s no demand for larger units.

In recent years, the popularity of townhomes in Calgary has steadily expanded housing choice in the inner city, but prices remain out of reach for many young families.

In 2022, townhomes recorded the highest year-over-year price growth in Calgary across segments, according to CREB data. Driven by strong sales and declining supply, in December the benchmark price of townhomes reached $355,308, from $309,483 a year prior. But in Calgary’s centre, the benchmark price for this type of home is almost double than the city’s average.

In Bridgeland, a vibrant inner-city neighbourhood in Calgary’s northeast, Neal Pickering and his family of four are worried about their housing prospects.

Currently, the Pickerings live in a two-bedroom apartment, where the couple’s two infant children have successfully shared one bedroom for nearly three years. But as their two- and five-year-old children grow, this arrangement is likely to become more challenging.

“We love it here,” Mr. Pickering says. “But it would be good to have an extra bedroom because we have a boy and a girl, and eventually they’ll want their own rooms.”

Like the Simaluks, the Pickerings don’t want to move to the suburbs either.

“We originally moved to Bridgeland back in 2010,” Mr. Pickering says. “And we moved here because it was close to downtown, [and] we liked the up-and-coming vibe – then we fell in love with it as a community.”

Living within walking distance to work, groceries, the river pathway, community gardens, playgrounds and daycare allows the Pickerings to own only one car, a situation that wouldn’t be possible if they moved further from the city’s core.

However, the price gap between a two-bedroom apartment and a three-bedroom unit in Bridgeland is too hefty for the Pickerings’ budget, whether latter is another apartment, a townhome, a semi-detached or a single-family home.

“It would be nice if our growing family could stay where we want to,” Mr. Pickering says. “I don’t want to live in a car-centric community.”

This conundrum is precisely what “missing-middle” housing aims to address.

The types of homes comprised in this classification include low-rise apartment buildings of different configurations, townhomes, as well as stacked duplexes and four-plexes, allowing for more spacious units within a compact footprint.

In the face of an increased number of rezoning applications for this type of housing, the City of Calgary took action last October and amended the land-use bylaw to remove some of the barriers limiting the construction of a broader range of housing types in the city’s central neighbourhoods, says Kate van Fraassen, a senior planner at the City of Calgary, acknowledging that changes to this regulation don’t affect new supply nor affordability directly.

“That was part of the reason why we wanted to do something a little bit more comprehensive or holistic,” she says, pointing at the addition of a new ground-oriented land-use district and updating the existing rules of two existing districts, residential-grade-oriented infill and multiresidential, to expand the areas where missing-middle housing can be built, including townhomes.

“Zoning and bylaw rules themselves don’t affect the supply of any form of housing, or whether it’s family friendly,” Ms. van Fraassen says. “With these new district and changes to the existing rules, we may have removed barriers that we know have affected the ability for different housing forms to be built.”

In Mr. Devani’s view, “this new [land-use] district will slowly allow for housing options to emerge, and we need to see more of it happening at a quicker pace in order for it to stay affordable.”

In the first week of 2023, when the bylaw amendments became effective, two rezoning applications were submitted by developers, one in Shaganappi, in the city’s southwest, and another in South Calgary.

If city council approves these applications, 18 new townhomes would be created in Calgary’s inner city, increasing the supply of a housing type that would allow families such as the Simaluks and the Pickerings to maintain a more sustainable lifestyle.