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300 units of supportive housing hinge on Edmonton council vote

March 2, 2017: The city will have to debate how it can help the most vulnerable and the need for supportive housing. As Vinesh Pratap reports, the big question is where it should go.

City councillors have cleared away a major hurdle to allow permanent supportive housing throughout Edmonton. On Tuesday, council’s Urban Planning Committee agreed to change the rules of a section of the zoning bylaw that governs group homes.

After a full council vote on Monday, the way will be clear for Redemptive Developments to apply for a development permit for three, 6,000-square-foot homes in the west end’s Glenwood neighborhood. Each home would have space for 12 individuals.

READ MORE: Eventual solution to Edmonton’s homelessness issue will come through zoning: McKeen

That’s just the beginning for Steve Hughes, the director of construction and development with the Jasper Place Wellness Centre.

“Our goal is to achieve 300 units in 12-unit increments over the next two years.”

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Hughes said just a few months ago it didn’t appear city council would be able to work its way through conflicting policies that prevent these homes from being built. One issue was convincing the neighbours that full-time support staff would be on site.

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“We’ve been in a year-long consultation with the residents around Glenwood,” Hughes said. “And we have their support, so long as it’s permanent supportive housing.”

Words matter and in this case, letting neighbours know it is not affordable housing but rather supportive housing, made a world of difference, Hughes said.

READ MORE: 486 sleep homeless in Edmonton river valley while shelter beds go unused

“We do have provincial funding for that, which we were in jeopardy of losing if we couldn’t get this through, which would have been the ultimate crime where the NIMBYs would have really got their way and we would have lost the opportunity for that grant and that building.”

The provincial grant is worth $2.4 million, Hughes said.

Once the bylaw is formally changed, providers will be able to build larger homes and can house those who would otherwise be living on the streets.

“Our zoning bylaw was misaligned with our values,” said Councillor Michael Walters.

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“We were advocating to other orders of government for money for permanent supportive housing and then our zoning bylaw was preventing us from allowing permanent supportive housing to be built.”

There were limits on how many could live in a home. There were also limits on how many homes could be in a neighbourhood.

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READ MORE: New zoning bylaws aimed at making it easier to build secondary suites in Edmonton

“The changes we made today help enable more housing to be built for people who need permanent supports across Edmonton.

“So essentially, it’s just making it easier to end homelessness.”

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Hughes said the residents are assigned to a unit and the 12 are chosen based on having something in common.

“Our residents generally have to go through the housing-first protocol. So they have to be chronically homeless. And they’re generally duel-diagnosed with a mental illness and an addiction. In the right environment, they can survive independently.

“So our buildings provide 24/7 supports. We make sure everybody’s safe and happy.”

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“One of the challenges some of the residents have is just getting in the wrong environment. So if the building gets chaotic, their lives tend to become chaotic. So there’s just somebody there 24/7 to make sure all of the common areas are free of any grief. So we just make sure there’s no bad behaviour or nothing like that’s happening.”

READ MORE: New supportive housing building opens in northeast Edmonton

The goal for Redemptive Developments is to break ground on the three lots at 100 Avenue and 160 Street by October, and with prefab construction happening off site, they could have the first 36 residents moving in before the end of the year.

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Hughes said all 25 buildings would be similar in design, with some exteriors altered to make them fit in with the neighborhoods they’re placed in.

He said they have placed roughly 1,400 residents with other providers. This bylaw change will make it easier to house clients in Edmonton. Many are placed in St. Albert or Sherwood Park because the zoning rules there aren’t as complicated as what will be done away with in Edmonton after Monday’s vote.