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Uptick in Edmonton housing starts promising, but not enough for low-income earners: City

FILE: A new home under construction in Edmonton Friday, March 26, 2021. Wes Rosa, Global News

The number of new homes being built in Edmonton is increasing, but that new construction won’t necessarily help those in need of affordable and subsidized housing.

Housing starts were up 23 per cent in Edmonton in the first half of 2022, compared to the same time last year.

Much of that growth is thanks to a surge in construction of apartments and row houses, according to the latest Housing Supply Report released Tuesday by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

More than 2,500 apartments were started in the city — up nearly 75 per cent from last year. As well, 943 rowhouses were started — a jump of 14 per cent. Most units under construction are apartments and rowhouses.

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“Rental apartments under construction accounted for all the growth in apartment construction and reached 5,377 units,” said the report by the Crown corporation.

“This implies that there is more oncoming supply of rental apartments, which should help ease some market supply and affordability concerns within this segment.”

Detached single family homes still accounted for half of the total starts in the city.

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Edmonton sees housing market start to cool off

Adebola Omosola wrote in the report the sustained growth in construction is thanks to a better economy. There has been a decrease in inventory of housing across the region, but it remained the highest in Edmonton compared to other Canadian cities.

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While an increase in supply can make housing more affordable for the middle class and those with higher wages, that’s not necessarily true for those with lower incomes.

“We know that the market alone can’t meet the demand for housing across all income levels,” said Christel Kjenner, the city’s director of affordable housing and homelessness.

Kjenner said new affordable housing — and lots of it — is a key need in the city’s Affordable Housing Needs Assessment, released in August. She said the City of Edmonton needs to play a role in affordable housing.

Currently, Edmonton needs 49,000 units of affordable housing. That number will grow to 60,000 by 2026.

A table describing the amount of housing that needs to be built for Edmontonians by 2026.
The City of Edmonton projects that tens of thousands of people could be unable to afford their rent by 2026. The City of Edmonton

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Kjenner said the city works with provincial and federal governments to identify land and funding with which to build housing at less-than-market rates.

“The federal government has a national housing strategy which has a goal of reducing the number of Canadians in core housing need over the next ten years. They’re coming to the table in terms of investing in affordable housing, as is the province who recently announced a new provincial affordable housing strategy.”

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Kjenner said the increased construction will still have a long-term positive effect on Edmonton’s housing market.

“There’s no question that a larger number of housing starts mean there’s more opportunity and more choice in the market for Edmontonians who earn enough money to be able to afford to buy a house,” said Kjenner.

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Edmonton rent-to-own housing units to be built for Paul First Nation members

“Last year, we had a record number of purpose-built rentals started, which is great news because often what happens and what we see in other cities is there’s an emphasis on condominiums and ownership.

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“It will ultimately have longer-term benefits on supply and the affordability of the rental market for sure.

“But at the end of the day, those purpose-built rental units that are coming online are usually brand new and they’re at the top end of the market.”

Kjenner said those new rentals can go for as much as 130 per cent of market rates.

“They won’t provide a lot of relief for people in those lower income brackets who are looking for affordable apartments that are much lower than the market.”

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Of the thousands of market rentals being built, many are in downtown neighbourhoods.

Puneeta McBryan is the executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association. She told Darryl McIntyre and Chelsea Bird on 630 CHED Mornings that there will soon be many more households living downtown.

“We have ten new construction projects going downtown that were delayed indefinitely for the last few years,” said McBryan.

“That’s going to bring something like 1,000 plus residents downtown just in the next two- to four years.”

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Last week, McBryan’s counterparts from the downtown business associations of Winnipeg and Vancouver joined her for a luncheon where the panel discussed what’s possible for downtowns.

McBryan said building new, dense housing downtown featured strongly in the panel’s conversation.

“It makes the downtown really a full and rich and vibrant neighborhood versus having very quiet streets in the evenings that feel, at times, a little bit uncomfortable.

“That residential density piece was for sure one of the biggest things that I think the whole room took away — that we’re on the right track.

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