Lethbridge officials respond to $1B federal housing funding

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Lethbridge officials say funding that was recently announced by the federal government aligns well with the city’s municipal housing strategy. As Emily Olsen reports, some officials are talking about how to provide adequate community supports through the process.

The federal government is spending $1 billion for rapid housing projects to keep people from becoming homeless during COVID-19.

While the application process remains unclear, Lethbridge Manager of Community Social Development Martin Thomsen says it’s in line with the city’s Municipal Housing Strategy — and most eyes are on hotels and motels looking to sell.

Read more: Federal government commits $1B for cities to buy motels, hotels for rapid-housing program

“Many of them across Canada are really to the point of shutting down or empty,” Thomsen said Wednesday.

Funds will be distributed over the next six months, but Lethbridge Housing Authority CAO Robin James said this doesn’t quite fit into the typical timeline.

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“The housing that the federal government has announced is for rapid rehousing which generally isn’t something that Lethbridge Housing actually participates in,” James said. “We would be looking at a partnership agreement if we were to apply for that money with some housing experts such as Canadian Mental Health.”

Read more: Lethbridge increases shelter space for homeless population to prevent spread of COVID-19

James added that more funding may be required.

“In order for everyone to be successful, there needs to be some operational dollars for housing support workers to ensure the tenant is safe, the community is safe and of course the complex stays safe,” James said.

David Gabert with the Canadian Mental Health Association said Wednesday that support provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association in housing contexts can include anything from assistance with learning to cook and clean, to family-oriented services.

“If they need additional support we can look at those additional supports, be it counsellors, be it medical supports, whatever they’re looking for,” Gabert said. “Really we do it on a case-by-case basis.”

Southern Alberta officials with the Canadian Mental Health Association say they’ve also seen how some Lethbridge housing projects have created community upheaval like the Superlodge on the south side of the city.

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Read more: Lethbridge residents voice concern over crime near emergency COVID-19 housing

“We want to avoid that,” Gabert said. “We don’t go into a situation saying ‘Hey, we just want to put people in housing and cause more social issues in the community.’ We definitely want to hear about what’s going on and respect the privacy, not only of the people we’re serving, but the community at large.”

Thomsen said for now, the city is open to any hotel facilities looking to sell or organizations looking to partner in advance of the funding coming through.