October 29, 2018 8:45 pm
Updated: October 29, 2018 8:50 pm

Affordable housing in Edmonton could be more affordable with less red tape, critics say

Aug. 13, 2018:A proposed City of Edmonton policy suggests an aspirational target of 16 per cent affordable housing in every community. The policy was discusses at city hall on Monday. Quinn Ohler has the details.

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A move to create more affordable housing units gained steam on Monday at Edmonton city council’s executive committee.

There’s a proposal on the issue that will be included for city council to debate in the next four-year budget.

The city could build 2,500 units for a price of $509 million. The city’s portion would be $132 million, with federal and provincial governments covering the rest.

Social agencies said they could build even more, but speaker after speaker told the committee that too much red tape is hindering efforts.

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READ MORE: Province promises $49.5M for new affordable housing building in northeast Edmonton

Greg Dewling with Capital Region Housing saw the problem with delays for required permits and other bureaucracy impact a project in Londonderry. He told the committee a few months’ delay added four per cent to the bottom line.

“It is absolutely a factor (in) administrative time (and) effort,” Dewling said.

“If we could have started that project in the spring, it would have cost us less.”

Curtis Way, CEO of RMS Developments, said one example is the city charges the same whether the project is high-end or social housing.

READ MORE: Edmonton audit finds problems with affordable housing strategies

Way said he is partnering with Dewling on a new project and said the private sector should be leading this file for the city, not the other way around.

“I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that I build this project way cheaper than he has ever seen anyone else build a project for.”

Groups like Capital Region Housing and the Greater Edmonton Foundation are working on a national level with similar groups to create a new housing investment consortium.

Christel Kjenner, the city’s director of housing and homelessness, said the cross-Canada work, in conjunction with the federal government, is showing encouraging signs.

“In addition to requiring additional funding from the province and the feds to support those units, our non-market housing providers are also saying that they see a huge opportunity here,” she told reporters.

“They want to do more than the 2,500 units. They want to talk to the province about how we can achieve 5,000 units in Edmonton.”

That’s where Mayor Don Iveson sees another inefficiency.

Money should be able to be borrowed more cheaply than it is now. He’s frustrated that government agencies can borrow through the Alberta Capital Finance Authority — the same source Edmonton borrows for its projects — but these social housing groups can’t.

Watch: Can taking the affordable look out of affordable housing lead to more communities buying in to the idea? Moving forward, up to 16 per cent of each Edmonton neighbourhood could be home to affordable housing. Vinesh Pratap looks into the complicated and emotional issue.

He said they’re borrowing at “four-point-something for 30 years, which is great,” however another half-point or point could be knocked off if the provincial government would regulate it.

“If they were able to borrow with the province co-signing, or with the feds for that matter, that rate would be lower and you’d be able to build proportionately more units or offer them more affordably.”

Nadine Chalifoux, who was homeless earlier this decade and now works as an advocate, spoke at the committee meeting. She said the plan is unexpected good news and the direction it’s going in is encouraging.

READ MORE: City of Edmonton discusses spreading out affordable housing

“It’s not enough but it’s a great start. They have put their foot forward and made a great start with this. If it goes into action soon then I’m ecstatic by that.

Too many times these things are just talked over and pushed to another group, pushed to another executive, pushed to another complete council. And then it gets changed and it gets dropped.”

Nearly 50,000 households in Edmonton spend 30 per cent of their income on housing. It’s even more dire when you consider more than 22,000 spent half of their income on housing.

Chalifoux said when she got out of shelters and into her own rental, she was spending 65 per cent of her income on housing. She knows of others who are at 75 per cent.

READ MORE: Aging Edmonton church transformed into affordable net zero family housing

The housing plan is to spread the projects all through all 12 wards of the city and not concentrate them in any one place like what was done in the past.

Councillor Michael Walters said he’d like to see vacant school sites, that were earmarked a decade ago for first-time home buyers, shifted to more projects like this.

“The First Place Program is going to be reviewed… and I will advocate that we spend more of our energy trying to sort of bite into this elephant as opposed to something that the market place, I think, is now probably providing enough opportunity for, for people to get into the housing market.”

Now that the $132-million plan was reviewed by the committee, it will be back as part of the four-year capital budget debate at the end of November.

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