Edmonton mayor asks province for millions to support housing, transit, economic recovery from COVID-19

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi is asking the Alberta government for tens of millions of dollars to help the city build and operate permanent supportive housing.

Sohi also wants money for public transit and to help the city’s core businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mayor made a proactive request this week, ahead of Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews releasing the 2022-23 provincial budget on Feb. 24.

A document issued to news media Thursday said he asked the province to contribute $49.7 million — about one-third of the estimated $149 million that it will cost to build 552 units of permanent supportive housing, the remainder of the city’s long-term plan to build 900 units.

“We have a crisis in our city,” Sohi said during a news conference. “People are sleeping outside in winter because they don’t have supportive housing to go into.”

Edmonton is currently building five supportive housing complexes and working on converting another two hotels into housing for a total of 348 units by the end of the year. 

To operate the complexes scheduled to open in 2022, Sohi is also looking for about $9 million a year from the province for 24-7 staffing to provide mental health and addictions services at the housing complexes, the document said.

Susan McGee, CEO of housing agency Homeward Trust, is pleased Sohi is making the requests. 

“We really do need to have a long-term plan for the kind of work that we’re doing around supportive housing in those individuals that have more complex needs,” McGee said.

“Support for those 900 units that we plan to bring on stream is going to be really critical.”

The city and agencies have been working since 2017 on these permanent supportive housing complexes, she noted. 

“This particular type of housing is unique in its model and hasn’t yet to date been funded sufficiently.”

Transit shortfall, COVID recovery

Sohi’s budget request also includes long-term funding and strategies for infrastructure and transit.

The document refers to a section in the previous city charter deal between the province, Calgary and Edmonton, which Jason Kenney’s UCP government nixed in 2019.

Restoring that capital funding — about $400 million per year — would allow Alberta’s two largest cities “to realize their future focused mass transit systems,” the document said. 

The City of Edmonton estimates it will need $81 million over the next two years to make up for lost transit revenues, as ridership on buses and LRT has dropped about 50 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Sohi said if the province and Ottawa don’t come through, the transit system — and riders — will suffer.  

“We would have to scale back our service and that will really impact Edmontonians’ ability to access services and programs and jobs because public transit is essential. That is my worry.” 

The mayor is also asking for $5 million to help struggling downtown businesses recover from the pandemic.

Sohi touted his efforts to reset the relationship with the provincial government. Since being elected mayor in October, he has met with Kenney and his cabinet ministers and had positive and fruitful discussions, he said.

“I am optimistic that our provincial government will step up for Edmonton,” Sohi said.

He added that housing, economic recovery and transit needs are immediate, and they’re “the bare minimum that we would expect our provincial government to deliver on.” 

@natashariebe

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