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Affordable housing: Alberta adds $16M to fix up aging government-owned units

As cities across Canada grapple with affordable housing challenges, Alberta is spending an extra $16 million to fix up aging government-owned affordable housing units to make them inhabitable once again.

Social Services Minister Jason Nixon says the money is on top of the $94 million already allocated in this year’s budget.

The money will be used to replace windows and repair roofs along with other rehabilitation projects.

Nixon says the government is working with housing providers to identify which units should get priority.

He says over the next eight years, the government aims to invest $9 billion to build 25,000 new affordable homes.

But he says in the meantime, they need to fix up the homes that already exist.

“The No. 1 thing that I’ve heard from our housing partner providers is that we must focus on capital maintenance and renewal, in particular targeted units (that) with a little bit of maintenance could come online and be able to help with the housing situation that we face right now,” Nixon told a news conference in Calgary Wednesday.

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“Since 2019, we’ve already invested nearly $700 million in housing and built more than 4,600 units of housing.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary councillor on proposal to increase housing supply, streamline permit process'

Calgary councillor on proposal to increase housing supply, streamline permit process

Arlene Adamson, head of the Alberta Seniors and Community Housing Association, said it’s a pressing issue that threatens to continue to squeeze aging Albertans.

“Nearly 700,000 Albertans spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing alone,” said Adamson. “One in seven Albertans are seniors and this will grow to one in five by 2046. We need to repair and invest and protect the existing housing stock and advance new capital to meet the demand.”

Earlier Wednesday, Opposition NDP housing critic Janis Irwin said the UCP government is failing Albertans on housing and affordability.

“The 2023 provincial budget forecasted 38,000 new housing units, but that target will be missed by at least 7,000, and the provincial government is actually on pace to build fewer total units this year than they did last,” said Irwin in a statement.

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“I’ve been flooded with stories from Albertans who’ve been priced out of their homes, who’ve experienced enormous and unexpected rent hikes, and I’ve listened to heartbreaking stories from families whose budgets simply cannot manage these dramatic increases.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says house prices ‘cannot continue to go up’ as feds look to fund more housing'

Trudeau says house prices ‘cannot continue to go up’ as feds look to fund more housing

The federal government also made an affordable housing announcement on Wednesday, naming London, Ont., as the first municipality to receive money from its Housing Accelerator Fund.

“We know that housing is a crisis that doesn’t have a single solution, but a big part of it going to be working with municipalities,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

To qualify, municipalities must meet certain criteria, like building housing near transit, something Edmonton’s mayor says the city has been doing for years.

“What London has started doing now, our city has been doing for a decade, and we’ll do more,” Amarjeet Sohi said. “There’s a very robust conversation coming to council around zoning regulations and how we densify our existing neighbourhoods — even how we increase more density in the new neighbourhoods.

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“I think that’d the right approach to take and I look forward to working with the federal government on the Rapid Housing Initiative, as well as the housing accelerator.”

Sohi said part of the housing affordability is access to transit, which offers access and choice.

“City council made a decision last month that they want to integrate transportation and land-use planning, which means that building high-density around bus rapid transit and LRT stations, which we have been doing for the last decade or so.”

Click to play video: 'Housing crisis: ‘We’re there to respond to the challenge,’ says Trudeau as report finds Canada falling behind'

Housing crisis: ‘We’re there to respond to the challenge,’ says Trudeau as report finds Canada falling behind

Across Canada, the housing supply gap has shrunk marginally since last year, but the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) projects the country will still be short 3.45 million homes by 2030 in order for housing to be affordable for most Canadians.

Quebec, B.C., Alberta and Nova Scotia all saw the supply gap widen compared with projections from last year.

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The report has also said Canada is projected to build fewer, not more, new homes by 2030. Last year, CMHC said there would be 18.58 million new housing units by 2030; this year, that projection is down to 18.19 million.

“This report again highlights the crucial role of increasing housing supply if the goal is to make housing affordable for everyone in Canada,” Aled ab Iorwerth, deputy chief economist at CMHC, said in the report.

“It also demonstrates the importance of examining both economic and demographic variables given the recent changes that have been experienced in both.”

Click to play video: 'Co-ops provide affordable housing option as federal NDP leader speaks out about rental crisis'

Co-ops provide affordable housing option as federal NDP leader speaks out about rental crisis

In an interview with Global News later Wednesday, ab Iorwerth said Alberta’s housing supply is projected to decrease.

“More people are moving to the province,” he explained. “We’re more optimistic there will be more disposable income in Alberta, more economic growth, more people. And then unfortunately what’s happened is we’ve had quite an impact from higher interest rates, from higher construction costs, from supply chain issues, from labour issues. The combination of being more pessimistic about what will be built anyhow, and then being more optimistic on economic growth in Alberta, you end up with a bigger supply gap in Alberta.”

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However, Alberta has a perk.

“It’s reasonably easy to get stuff built in Alberta. Going through the approval processes, it’s fairly straightforward in Alberta. It’s a relatively short amount of time. We’ve traditionally found, for example, that Edmonton is really a place where it’s easy to get stuff built,” ab Iorwerth added.

Click to play video: 'Officials request feds ‘pony up Alberta’s cash’ for affordable housing'

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

That’s good news for housing organizations like Habitat for Humanity, which are feeling the housing pinch.

“Since COVID, we’ve certainly seen the need for affordable housing,” said Ann-Marie Reddy, Edmonton Habitat for Humanity CEO. “I don’t think there’s a municipality in the province Alberta right now that isn’t having some form of housing crisis.”

Reddy said Habitat is different from other housing agencies because its goal is home ownership for individuals and families.

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“It’s been a challenge because housing costs have gone up in terms of supply, demand, supply issues, gaining access to affordable land,” she said. “We can’t build a home unless we have access to land, and if we’re buying land at market prices, it makes it very hard for us to make a home affordable for a family. We’re seeing more and more applications coming through from individuals who are interested in getting into home ownership. Interest rates do present another challenge… and just the rising costs of utilities, of taxes.”

With files from Uday Rana, Global News

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