While tabling a request for a report on housing at Wednesday’s Community and Public Services Committee, Councillor Michael Walters ripped Edmonton’s Members of the Legislative Assembly for what they’re not saying.
“All Edmonton MLAs are complicit in this issue of Edmonton being ignored on this important topic,” Walters said.
He had just asked for an action plan to create “bridge housing” in the city, as well as a report on what the cost would be to create needed supportive housing (in four locations in Edmonton) alone, without the help of the province or the federal government.
Walters said, quite often, federal money is tied to provincial money, which explains why he wants to know what’s possible without both levels of support.
Walters was especially upset at the stance taken so far by Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu.
“We do not have a champion in the Alberta Legislature at the moment on this issue.
“Our lone government MLA seems to care way more about what the chamber of commerce has to say about everything than Edmonton City Council does, who I suspect he sees largely as just a bunch of urban pinkos who just spend money wastefully.”
Madu made an address Tuesday at the chamber, warning city council to watch its spending heading into 2020 budget deliberations this week.
Walters said the NDP is not much better.
“The opposition MLAs, all elected from Edmonton, for the most part, are not talking about this issue; they’re busy playing gotcha politics with the government.”
City council had made supportive housing a priority for several years, citing figures that show it costs taxpayers between $75,000 to $100,000 a year — in policing and medical costs — to service someone who’s homeless. Housing people costs taxpayers an estimated $35,000 annually.
The bridge-housing plan the city is looking at would ideally be four sites around the city. There would be a common kitchen area and bathroom space with individual units for people to live in for roughly 90 days. It would serve as a place to stay while they are processed in the system before they can get their own apartment.
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Cristel Kjenner, the city’s housing director, said two leading forms of housing are modular trailers or, preferably, an existing building that can be renovated as a stand-alone unit.
An early cost estimate, found in the report the committee reviewed, pegs 50 units at each site at $6.2 million, $7.3 million for the modular model, or between $5.5 and $12 million for an existing building. On a per-client basis, those options range from $124,000 to $146,000, or $137,000 to $240,000.
Kjenner said the existing building model fits in better with the community.
Jim Gurnett, a former MLA and long-time advocate for the homeless, told the committee government neglect has gone on for decades.
He suggested the city track and record the data to get the point across.
“I’d like to see a summary of the entire failure of provincial and federal government funding for housing that goes back 20 years…
“Put it in front of people in the provincial government and say, ‘How can you justify the very low level of commitment you’ve made?'”