Edmonton City Council endorses next phase of housing plan

Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton.
Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton. Global News

Edmonton City Council has zeroed in on a policy that would see 916 units of “permanent supportive housing” built over the next six years.

Council had a lengthy debate Wednesday afternoon on a housing strategy designed to prepare Edmonton for when both the provincial and federal governments release previously announced funding.

READ MORE: More operating money needed to end homelessness, Edmonton councillors told

The most recent budget from the Notley government identified $1.2 billion, including a little over 30 units in the immediate future, while the feds have earmarked $40 billion Canada-wide. However, further details aren’t expected to be announced until later.

It’s a good next step, according to Mayor Don Iveson.

“Nine-hundred units over six years is not like we’re going to build 150 a year, it’s that there’s going to be a few dozen in the first couple of years then a few hundred in years 3, 4, 5 and 6 in order to get to that goal,” he said. “That’s absolutely attainable as long as everybody prioritizes it. I think there’s genuine consensus it’s a high priority for council.”

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He also added that council has agreed that these housing units should be built across the city and not concentrated in any one part of town.

City staff will spend the next few months, putting together a list of shovel-ready projects so Edmonton can be at the front of the line when the money is formally announced.

READ MORE: New supportive housing building opens in northeast Edmonton

“We work with a number of community partners and profit housing providers that have their own list of priorities and projects,” said Christel Kjenner, the city’s acting director for the homeless and housing. “A lot of that work is already done. It’s just getting together as a community and saying, ‘What is the highest priority and which projects are the ones that are going to meet the need?’ So part of that advocacy strategy would be creating an Edmonton community list of those projects.”

Councillor Michael Walters said this initiative is needed because those who find themselves sleeping in transit centres don’t have anywhere else to go.

“Nobody ever stands up for them. Nobody. They get lost in all of that other stuff and those chronically homeless people remain chronically homeless.”

The city is working on documented savings from police, and health care that piles up because of service calls, that can be used to demonstrate to the other orders of government that spending on housing will generate savings in emergency wards at area hospitals.

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“I don’t think this is simply a bleeding heart liberal issue,” said Councillor Scott McKeen, citing a report he’s seen recently that says the opening of Ambrose Place has saved the system $1 million in other spending. “I really do believe that there’s pragmatic benefits to the broad community if we deal with these problems well, including financial savings like actual reductions in tax dollars.”

This is step one in city council’s housing strategy. More is expected in June and again in September as they work on other housing files.