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Alberta mayors, housing minister, complain about inequitable affordable housing cash

The province and the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton want the federal government to allocate affordable housing dollars equitably so Alberta isn’t shortchanged compared to other regions of Canada. 

In a rare display of unity, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon sent a joint letter on Thursday to the new federal Housing, Communities and Infrastructure Minister Sean Fraser. 

Gondek, Sohi and Nixon said only six of 39 Alberta projects were approved for funding in the third round of the Rapid Housing Fund.

They said the allocation represents only 2.5 per cent of the $1.5 billion available in this round of funding. Alberta has about 12 per cent of Canada’s population.

The three leaders want Fraser to find a way to fund the unapproved projects and develop a more equitable model for future affordable housing programs.

Nixon told reporters in Calgary on Tuesday that he and the two mayors are on the same page when it comes to this issue 

“We don’t always ideologically agree on things politically, but what we do agree on is that Alberta deserves a fair deal inside Confederation,” he said. 

The Rapid Housing Fund was first announced in 2020 as a way to create affordable housing using modular construction or by renovating or converting existing buildings, such as hotels. The latest funding intake was announced late last year. 

Although the program is managed through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Nixon alleged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using the money to curry favour with other provinces, like Ontario, for political reasons. 

“We do not want to see the federal government investing Alberta dollars in other provinces in order to buy votes rather than help deal with what is a significant challenge inside the province of Alberta,” he said. 

CBC News has asked Fraser’s ministry for comment. 

One Edmonton project

Edmonton submitted seven projects with 288 units for the third round of the Rapid Housing Initiative. Two of the projects were city-led supportive housing partners, with the other five a mix of supportive and affordable housing, proposed by other housing organizations. 

The city and the province planned to commit $43.5 million of the $67 million price tag. Only one project with 11 units received approval. 

Sohi said 3,100 Edmontonians don’t have homes. About 60 per cent are Indigenous. 

“I worry that if federal government does not provide additional support for these projects, that we will end up losing provincial support,” Sohi said at a news conference Tuesday. 

“We will not be able to build 288 units. And that means that the 3,100 households in Edmonton or individuals in Edmonton who are living rough wouldn’t have their place to call home. So it’s very urgent.”

Both Edmonton and Calgary have seen an increase in open drug use and violence on their transit systems. The situation prompted the provincial government to send teams of sheriffs to work with city police officers in an attempt to restore some order. 

Sohi said increased enforcement in downtown and Chinatown have pushed encampments into other residential neighbourhoods. The city is concerned about gangs preying on the people who live in tents and will dismantle encampments only when they become unsafe. 

Sohi said the city is trying to take a compassionate approach due to the lack of permanent supportive housing and shelter capacity.

“We understand that people are forced to live in tents, in encampments,” Sohi said. 

“It’s not a choice by people to be there, but they’re there because they have no other place to go.”

NDP housing critic Janis Irwin said she was disappointed about the funding disparity but blamed the United Conservative government for failing to fund permanent supportive housing projects and cutting money for rental assistance and affordable housing builds. 

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