Edmonton mayor renews call for housing funding help after province reports $3.9B surplus

The City of Edmonton is renewing calls for the province to fund more than 450 units of permanent supportive housing after the province announced Tuesday that it ended the 2021-22 fiscal year with a $3.9-billion surplus.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi has been asking the Alberta government to provide funding to operate the special housing units since January. At that time, the yearly cost sat at $9 million. Now, it’s $11 million because of additional units.

On Tuesday, after a community and public services committee meeting, Sohi told reporters that the province’s year-end fiscal results should put it in a better position to help the city.

“I hope the province will see this as an opportunity to allocate more money to our city because now they have the capacity to do so through this surplus and also on an ongoing basis,” he said. 

The city moved quickly on plans for five modular permanent supportive housing projects under the federal government’s rapid housing initiative in 2020 and 2021.

The projects are in the McArthur Industrial, King Edward Park, Terrace Heights, Inglewood and Westmount neighbourhoods. 

The city then approved support for social agencies to convert two hotels — the former Sands Inn and Suites near Yellowhead Trail, and a former Days Inn on University Avenue — and later approved the Coliseum Inn conversion project, for a total of 453 units opening within the next year. 

“Unfortunately to this date, we haven’t heard any confirmed support from the province but I’m optimistic that our last meeting with the ministers and the premier was very positive,” Sohi said. 

Sohi repeated a call for the province to give Edmonton an equal share of funding for shelters and supportive housing.

He said he’s met with several cabinet ministers and Premier Jason Kenney over the past couple of months to discuss the city’s needs.

“They’re all aware,” he said. “We are getting far less money to end houselessness in Edmonton compared to other cities in Alberta, particularly compared to Calgary.” 

The city says Edmonton’s homeless population doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Tuesday, Homeward Trust listed some 2,750 people as experiencing homelessness in Edmonton.

In a statement Tuesday, Jason Luan, minister of community and social services, said operational funding for the new units will be a mix of provincial and federal funding but no specific numbers were made available. 

Luan said the government recognizes the City of Edmonton is dealing with an increase in homelessness during the pandemic. 

“We will continue to work with them to explore all options to ensure vulnerable people are protected and can get the help they need,” Luan wrote. 

City takes new steps 

At the committee meeting Tuesday, councillors reviewed a bundle of reports related to shelter standards, affordable housing and supportive housing projects. 

Sohi proposed a motion aimed at speeding up new affordable housing projects.

The committee agreed the city should outline options to reduce costs and timelines on building non-market, affordable housing.

That includes possibly rezoning surplus school sites and other city-owned property to facilitate expedited construction.

They also agreed to move ahead with a new kind of project: a fire station with permanent supportive units in the Walker neighbourhood at Ellerslie Road and Watt Boulevard S.W.

The report describes the station as a three-bay fire hall with 64 units of supportive housing attached.

An Alberta Health Services emergency medical services station is also in the plan. 

“The travel time and overall response time to an emergency event will be greatly reduced,” the report says. 

Keren Tang, councillor for Ward Karhiio, said more support is needed on the south side.

“Housing and homelessness is no longer just a downtown or core issue,” Tang said. “We’re seeing encampments on the deep south side, people sleeping behind parks and bus shelters in Mill Woods, panhandlers along stretches of main corridor roads.” 

The final funding request would be presented ahead of the 2023-2026 capital budget cycle. 

View original article here Source