Affordable housing on radar for county and Fort councils

Ward 8 Coun. Katie Berghofer and Heartland Housing Foundation board member. Lindsay Morey/News Staff

Share Adjust Comment Print

The need for more regional affordable housing is back in the spotlight.

On the cusp of the grand opening of Silver Birch Haven, Heartland Housing Foundation board chair and Fort Saskatchewan city councillor, Deanna Lennox made a motion to get an update on what Fort Saskatchewan has achieved since its 2010 Affordable Housing Strategy.

The motion, which was supported unanimously at the August 27 city council meeting, requests specific information pertaining to; what actions have been completed from the report; what work or changes have occurred demographically, economically and culturally that may impact housing needs, what current projects the city is undertaking to address housing strategies, what tools are available that can aid the municipality from a housing perspective, and; what recommendations for a plan that administration has moving forward. A report will come back to council later this year.

Since Silver Birch Haven converted 28 units of its 94 dwellings to affordable housing, following a slow capacity rate since April, Lennox noted with the increasing senior population and young generations unable to get into the housing market, now, more than ever, is the time to address the issue of affordable housing head on.

“We’re really starting to have some discussions now on what affordable housing means,” Lennox told The News after the grand opening ceremony for the newest HHF facility on Sept. 6. “In this situation with Silver Birch Haven, it’s still very much about affordable housing but it impacts what would be considered not the normal focus for affordable housing. That’s unique to this situation, but I think we need to look at and consider all forms of affordable housing for all people and how we can actually address it.”

Heartland Housing Foundation board chair and Fort Saskatchewan councillor Deanna Lennox. Lindsay Morey/News Staff

Getting an update on what’s been achieved on the affordable housing front and what more needs to be done, Lennox noted it’s important to not let expensive studies collect dust and actually implement what’s in them. Bringing projects forward hits a personal note for the Fort councillor.

“My oldest child is graduating this year and I wonder what does affordable housing mean to her. My grandmother is 95-years-old and is at the other end of that continuum,” detailed Lennox. “The experience of serving as the board chair with Heartland Housing Foundation has really made me think across age, across income, what can we do? It seems a lot of that responsibility is coming back to the municipalities in a lot of cases. Partnerships with Strathcona County and collaboration, that’s something that has stood out for me; how much more we can get done when we have partners that are engaged and involved to not just talk about it, but put money and efforts into it.”

Fellow HHF board member and Ward 8 Strathcona County Coun. Katie Berghofer outlined much of the movement on affordable housing comes down to securing funding, such as Lodge Assistance Program grants, from the provincial governments. Another limitation would be lack of open land available in Sherwood Park for such developments.

A report about how to partner with Habitat for Humanity to bring about more affordable housing options in the county is expected to return to Strathcona County council in December. That report was requested by Coun. Bill Tonita, which was backed his colleagues. At a June council meeting, Habitat for Humanity  told council that there is a high level of demand in Strathcona County for affordable housing. CEO Karen Stone called the regional situation “dire” with 280 families applying when two Habitat homes became available in Edmonton last November. There is only 10 Habitat for Humanity homes in Strathcona County; four builds in the traditional HFH style and six donated by builders. The last time the non-profit built in the county was back in 2010.

“I asked the same question: why we haven’t partnered more and looked for those opportunities? But if it’s not a request by council or of the municipality on the developer, I don’t think it’s an option that they automatically look for. I’d love to say every developer looks for those opportunities to do those partnerships, but it’s been proven that they haven’t done that yet,” said Berghofer. “It’s really about being the squeaky wheel and being the one who speaks for that opportunity. Maybe we need to change the perception that individuals may have able these types of builds and what they mean to a community because I think there still discrimination about what it is, but it’s about helping hard-working individuals who have a certain amount of funds, but just not enough, to get that step up. A lot of people don’t know what Habitat for Humanity is and how it can help families dramatically.”

On the seniors portfolio, the Ward 8 Coun. noted there is a “desperate need” for widowed elderly women. In many cases, they only have their property and some money in the bank, but no pensions.

“These women don’t have pension to fall back on, like women of today’s generation. All they have is their homes, but they don’t have that additional revenue stream from a pension to fall back on. People don’t see that. There’s this perception that Strathcona County has an above average in wealth that we don’t need that subsidized or affordable housing. There’s also that that we’re combating.”

With the provincial budget on the horizon, Berghofer called funding for affordable housing and home-care funding crucial to dealing with the baby boomer demographic. Last week’s MacKinnon report hinted at

“If they’re looking at funding new builds, there’s still a high need right across the province… it’s actually a national issue that’s facing us. I think cutting back in healthcare for seniors at home, funding for new builds, or LAP funding, it isn’t feasible. We actually need an increase in LAP grant funding to have more affordable units,” said Berghofer. “We need more funding for homecare models so we can keep more residents that we can’t house in these structures in their homes, so we need additional funding for homecare as well to make sure they’re getting the proper care they need and not cut that… If they’re not getting adequate care at home, they’ll end up costing the government a lot more money when they’re in hospital.”