Edmonton to meet four-year affordable housing goals, council to discuss further targets

While Edmonton will meet its four-year subsidized housing unit targets by the end of the year, city council will discuss how the city should approach its next goals.

Four years ago the city set a goal of building 2,500 living spaces for people who cannot afford to pay the normal market rates and 600 supportive housing units. Now city staff say not only will that target be met, but it will be surpassed, with approximately 4,400 units opened by the end of 2022.

In 2020, there was an estimated 1,651 people experiencing homelessness in Edmonton overall. That soared to 2,814 last year, and as of April this year declined to 2,765. According to the city, the significant increase between 2020 and 2021 was “mainly” attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic, Edmonton had reduced overall homelessness by 50 per cent since 2008,” the city said in its response to the latest homelessness audit.

That audit found that while Edmonton delivers various programs and services to help homeless Edmontonians, there is not a clear plan to coordinate activities, set objectives or scope, and accountability for responses.

Indigenous people make up less than six per cent of the city’s population, however, administration noted that Homeward Trust’s By-Names-List indicated 62 per cent of individuals experiencing homelessness are Indigenous.

Andrew Knack, Nakota Isga councillor, says the city has been taking the lead in affordable housing despite it being a provincial responsibility.

“I do think we are at the point now where we need to ask them to turn over jurisdiction of this to municipalities,” Knack said.

He points to the handful of projects with supportive units — designed to help lift people out of homelessness by providing round-the-clock medical, addiction and mental health supports — that still lack provincial funding to operate a total of 453 units.

“That would be more than half of the people who are hardest to house, in a home, getting the support and care they need 24/7 in less than a couple of months,” Knack said. “And yet, we’re not there.”

“The pandemic put us, I don’t know what the word is that I would use beyond crisis,” Knack added. “We were already in a crisis, now in an even worse crisis.”

Jason Luan, community and social services minister, said in a statement tthat the province is taking the issue of homelessness “very seriously.”

“That is why we have established a provincial homelessness task force,” Luan said.

The task force will bring together experts, community leaders, law enforcement, and private sector members to innovate strategies to reduce “recurring homelessness,” he added.

The statement made no mention of if the province would fund Edmonton’s supportive housing units.

Luan highlighted the province gives $29 million annually to Homeward Trust to fund programming, outreach support, and some supportive housing.

THE NEED FOR MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Later this month, city council will consider three funding proposals to create new or refurbish existing affordable housing over the next four years, ranging from around 2,400 to 3,600 units.

Creating 2,471 more units, the lowest option, would cost the city $163.4 million and result in a project value of $508.2 million. For 3,600 units, the city would need to contribute $246.4 million but would generate an expected project value of $917 million.

Each proposal differs in the amount of capital grants and land sales, the extent of development at surplus school sites, as well as the number of deep subsidy units for the lowest income earning Edmontonians.

As the city undergoes a housing needs assessment, expected to be released in full by September prior to budget cycle deliberations, administration shared several findings with council, including that one in four renter households, about 33,320, are in core housing need.

“Renters are four times more likely than homeowners to experience core housing need,” the city says.

According to the city, despite Edmonton’s median household annual income being higher than the national average of $70,336 by more than $16,000, about 38 per cent of renter households in the city earn less than $45,000 — compared to 24 per cent nationwide.

Demographics of renter households in Edmonton living in inadequate, unsuitable and unaffordable housing, include:

  • 57,230 households with people facing mobility and other physical health challenges;
  • 23,350 racialized households;
  • 18,895 households including people with intellectual disabilities;
  • 15,715 households with people diagnosed with psychosocial disabilities;
  • 9,055 senior households;
  • 8,330 Indigenous households; and
  • 7,795 single mother households.

“If we have more affordable housing, we won’t see as many people becoming homeless when economic circumstances change for the worse,” said Christel Kjenner, the city’s affordable housing and homelessness director. 

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