Officials request feds ‘pony up Alberta’s cash’ for affordable housing

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Officials request feds ‘pony up Alberta’s cash’ for affordable housing
WATCH: The mayors of Alberta's two largest cities and the province has penned a letter to the federal government asking for a reconsideration of funding for affordable housing projects. As Adam MacVicar reports, only six of the 39 projects in Alberta's application received federal dollars – Aug 1, 2023

Alberta is calling on the feds for more funding as desperation seeps in around the affordable housing crisis plaguing the province — particularly in the two major cities.

The calls come on the heels of the latest round of funding for the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI), which is meant to fund permanent affordable housing units for vulnerable people and populations across the country.

According to provincial and municipal officials, only six of the 39 affordable housing projects included in Alberta’s application will receive funding.

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In a joint letter to the federal minister Tuesday, Minister Jason Nixon, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the 200 units funded for Alberta represents less than four per cent of the 5,200 housing units funded through the initiative — a “disproportionate result” they find “very troubling.”

“The total funding of $38 million is only 2.5 per cent of the funding that’s available,” Gondek said Tuesday. “We’re the fourth-largest province, we have 12 per cent of the population, and we’re just not seeing that money come back to us.”

Alberta’s request to the feds is a reconsideration of the funding, with $114 million needed for the remaining 33 projects on the province’s application.

“We have projects ready to go right now to help the most vulnerable in Alberta and we expect the federal government to pony up Alberta’s cash that we’re owed for those projects,” Nixon told reporters in Calgary.

Nixon added that it is “unacceptable for the prime minister to shortchange Alberta,” and that the province would “take action” if the funding isn’t reconsidered.

The minister didn’t elaborate when asked about what additional actions Alberta could take.

Alberta has received money for affordable housing from the RHI equivalent to one in every eight units funded in the first two rounds of the program.

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In response to the letter, the federal minister’s office said that the funding Alberta receives through the three phases of the RHI “will help establish 1,776 units of the 15,539 expected across Canada. This represents 11.4 per cent of the total units, a roughly per capita allocation of funding to Alberta.”

In addition, the statement said, through the city stream — one of two funding streams in the RHI — funding was allocated to all cities’ top prioritized projects. For the projects stream, project priority were ranked based on criteria met, including “cost-sharing, expediency, subsidy duration, need, land, affordability, people & populations, new applicants, energy efficiency and accessibility.”

According to Nixon, the province is spending more than $1 billion on affordable housing projects over the next three years, with another $250 million being allocated to rent supplements.

However, it’s not enough, according to Meaghon Reid with Vibrant Communities Calgary.

Reid told Global News that all three levels of government aren’t building affordable housing rapidly enough in Alberta to meet the increase in demand, with around 15,000 people in wait lists for affordable housing in the province.

“I’m not really sure that the urgency is really being felt across all levels of government to understand just how many people are on the brink of homelessness currently,” she said.

The joint letter to the feds noted “unique” challenges in Alberta and in its two largest cities, including the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in its homeless population and the need for “deep subsidy affordable housing.”

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It also notes Alberta is taking on “unprecedented levels of in-migration,” which includes newcomers that require access to family affordable housing units.

Those challenges are being felt by Be the Change YYC, an outreach organization helping those experiencing homelessness in Calgary.

The group’s founder, Chaz Smith, said the organization has had more than 17,000 unique interactions with people on the street, and has referred 300 people into housing programs last year alone.

“With limited housing supply, we’re seeing that wait time increase,” he told Global News. “One of the saddest parts right now is we’re getting calls from all sorts of folks who have never been homeless before.”

Smith said one of those calls to their outreach phone was from a woman in her 60s who could not afford her rent increase, and requested a tent.

“Until the housing is built that people need, and is a human right in Canada, we’re going to simply continue performing aid on the street with basic supplies like food and water,” Smith said.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, Housing and Communities did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.

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