Ottawa and Alberta offer cash to maintain affordable housing units

Click to play video: 'Affordable housing funds a drop in the bucket' Affordable housing funds a drop in the bucket
WATCH ABOVE: Ottawa and the province are promising another $137 million for affordable housing projects. The cash is welcome but several studies show this kind of money amounts to basically a drop in the bucket. Fletcher Kent has more – Oct 21, 2016

An extra $137 million is now available to Alberta organizations trying to maintain ageing affordable housing supplies.

Cabinet ministers from both the federal and provincial governments signed a deal Friday to expand the joint Investment in Affordable Housing program.

The federal government is responsible for $94.5 million of the extra money while the province will chip in $42.4 million.

“When the economy isn’t performing at the level it should be performing, that is the time to actually catch up,” federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said.

Lori Sigurdson, provincial minister of Seniors and Housing, echoed Sohi’s excitement.

“This funding is absolutely wonderful to help us do more because we know much needs to be done,” Sigurdson said.

READ MORE: Demand for affordable housing in Edmonton more than triples since fall 2014

Groups who provide affordable housing welcome the cash.

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Greg Dewling heads up Capital Region Housing. Years of under-funding has meant three decades of deferred maintenance.

Dewling estimates Capital Region Housing needs to spend $200 million to renovate all 4,500 units it manages. This money will help but it won’t eliminate the shortfall.

“What’s it’s doing is it’s allowing us to address health and safety. We can’t do the major upgrades, the windows, energy retrofits and so forth,” Dewling said.

Dewling adds providers need to build more units too. Capital Region Housing manages 4,500 units and has a waiting list of 4,500.

The organization has plans to build 1,000 new units over the next five years but would like money for even more. They fear waiting lists could grow even longer.

“The biggest challenge is the economy,” said Dewling. “As the economy gets worse, our waiting list actually rises but… the different orders of government, their revenues drop also.”

This announcement came one day after Edmonton’s 24 hour homeless count was conducted.

Volunteers walked through Edmonton’s inner city and visited shelters. They asked people if they were homeless and how they survived. The answers will provide a snapshot of Edmonton’s homeless situation.

READ MORE: Edmonton counts homeless population 2 years after price of oil crashes

The last homeless count was performed in 2014. It found 2,307 homeless people in Edmonton. This year, some predict a lagging provincial economy will lead to volunteers identifying more homeless people.

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As welcome as the promised money may be, a new report suggests it falls far short of what is needed.

The 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada report concludes Ottawa needs to spend $44 billion over the next 10 years to eliminate homelessness. That would mean more than doubling the current investment.

On Friday, Sohi said money is part of the issue. The federal Liberals will consider all recommendations. However, Sohi touted Ottawa’s promised National Housing Strategy and said previous government’s inaction on that front has made this problem worse.

“It’s the shortsightedness of the governments to not look into the future and develop a plan and a consistent plan,” he said.

Alberta is also working on a provincial housing strategy.

READ MORE: Housing is unaffordable and in need of a $13B federal fix: cities

Whatever the new plans might be, it will be challenging, Dewling said. Edmonton’s 10 year-plan to end homelessness has taken thousands of people off the street thanks to a focus on housing. But Dewling notes all that work addressed the easy things, relatively speaking. Governments and social agencies have picked all the low-hanging fruit.

“The challenge now is, you’re getting into the more difficult circumstances and families and individuals who have more complex needs,” Dewling said. “It’s going to take another effort to really get past that next milestone.”

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A lot of effort and more money, too.

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