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Calgary gets federal funds for 176 affordable housing units: ‘A watershed moment’

Multi-family housing construction going up in Calgary's SE during Alberta's downturn. Global News

Some of Calgary’s most vulnerable citizens will be getting some housing support thanks to funding from the federal government.

Thursday morning, $24.6 million was announced to create 176 new affordable housing units. The funding comes from the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI), a $1-billion fund designed to create 3,000 units across the country.

Read more: Calgary to receive 176 affordable housing units with federal Rapid Housing Initiative

Three projects will be headed up by a trio of Calgary-based non-profit organizations that specialize in affordable housing.

Silvera for Seniors will be converting a hotel into 120 units for seniors. HomeSpace Society will be rehabilitating an older building into 27 units for Indigenous people. And Horizon Housing will be creating 29 modular homes for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

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Ahmed Hussen, federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said the COVID-19 pandemic “has only underscored and worsened the housing challenges that exist in our communities.”

“With the second wave of the pandemic underway, I know you’ll agree with me that we need more affordable housing and we need it now.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi called it “an incredibly important day,” showing how governments can come together during a crisis. And the mayor said the idea for the RHI came from modest beginnings.

“It was very early in the crisis that my chief of staff blurted out in a meeting with the prime minister’s office: ‘Why don’t we just fix housing?’” Nenshi said.

The Calgary mayor called RHI an opportunity unlike anything else in his past decade in public life, and said the economic conditions are right to purchase assets for projects like this.

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Martina Jilecova, Horizon Housing CEO, called it a “triple win.”

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“One, this means new homes for people who need them,” Jilecova said. “Two, this means economic stimulus in the form of new jobs — and the Alberta economy is struggling. And three, the federal government is investing in experts — not-for-profit developers who not only build cost-effectively… we also know how to build to meet the needs of our neighbours in need.”

Silvera CEO Arlene Adamson called it a “watershed moment.”

And HomeSpace CEO Bernadette Majdell said the pandemic put into focus the need to house the homeless.

“In a time when we’re all asked to stay inside and to not see other people, it’s been very remarkable how many of us are without a home.”

The three projects fall under the major cities stream, tapping half of the RHI funds.

Read more: 80 supportive housing units to be built in 2 Edmonton neighbourhoods by end of 2021

The non-profit organizations will own and operate the properties.

“It ensures that our major cities’ unique housing needs are met,” Hussen said.

“The top 15 cities that are receiving money under the major cities stream are the places where most Canadians who are experiencing homelessness are located.”

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According to city officials, Calgary has more than half of the province’s homeless population, numbering more than 3,000.

The other half of the RHI will be awarded under the projects stream.

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The city is working with Silvera and HomeSpace to unlock a further $42 million for 183 more units under the projects stream, a stream other non-profits can also apply for.

Applications for that stream end on Dec. 31, with commitments to spend those funds by March 31, 2021 and move-in dates within 12 months.

A ‘down payment’ to address homelessness

Thursday’s announcement represents a small fraction of the goal to eliminate homelessness in the Calgary.

The city worked with 40 organizations, with a goal of creating 5,400 new homes in the next three years under the Community Plan.

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“If we can make this Community Plan happen with relatively modest investments from the three orders of government, at the end of three years, we will have ended homelessness in Calgary,” the mayor said.

“We will have ended functional homelessness in Calgary.”

Nenshi likened the 176 units to a “down payment” in the city’s affordable housing needs, saying the RHI is just one stream being used to add units.

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The federal Rental Construction Financing Initiative, which got a $12-billion bump during the fall economic statement, has private developers and organizations build housing that is a mix of affordable and market units.

Hussen also highlighted the Reaching Home program and direct funding of women’s shelters as a couple of ways the federal government is helping relieve homelessness in cities like Calgary.

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Nenshi said he’s waiting for the province to step up.

“I really would like to see a little more forward movement on the part of the government of Alberta,” the mayor said. “I think I can say that they’re waiting to see if this works.”

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