Edmonton councillors agreed Wednesday to put $16.7 million of the city’s “affordable housing” grant money toward 276 below-market or near-market rental homes.
Councillors approved five housing projects at an executive committee meeting including three “bridge healing” transitional buildings for homeless patients leaving hospitals run by Jasper Place Wellness Centre, refurbishing the old Downtown YMCA with new apartments, and a mixed-market rental building in the suburban outskirts of southwest Edmonton.
Rents for three-quarters of these homes (209 units) could cost tenants up to 80 per cent of the average rates on the open market with the remaining one-quarter (67) offering deeper subsidies — up to half the average market rent. However, a representative for Jasper Place Wellness Centre told council tenants wouldn’t need to pay rent for 30-45 days as they recover and would be connected with permanent affordable housing as soon as possible.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told Postmedia he is committed to moving the needle on getting more supportive and affordable homes built in the city. This is important for the city’s economic growth and people’s abilities to participate in the workforce and their communities, he said.
“Housing is so critical in every kind of society that we want to build. If people don’t have appropriate housing, people will not be able to be successful. Our society will not be able to be the kind of society that we want,” Sohi said.
Asked if he’s satisfied with the level of subsidies, he said, “We need all types of housing. Definitely, we need more deep-subsidized housing, and this helps us to meet that demand.”
The Edgemont Flats development in southwest Edmonton is receiving $9 million from the city for 150 “affordable” units and $79.4 million from the federal National Housing Co-Investment Fund. Of these, 67 would rent for a maximum of 50 per cent average market rents.
Current access to public transit at this location is poor. Google Maps shows a minimum 32-minute walk to reach the nearest bus stop.
The mayor said he wants to explore increasing transit funding to areas that lack access during the upcoming budget debates.
20 per cent discount affordable?
Many housing projects funded both by the city and by the federal government classify “affordable housing” as homes with rents at least 20 per cent cheaper than average in the open market.
But with rising rents in Edmonton, those homes could be only a few percentage points cheaper than what was available just one year ago. One report from rental website Zumper found median rents in Edmonton rose by nearly 17 per cent year-over-year in October for one-bedroom apartments.
Whether or not the 80 per cent of market metric is truly “affordable” was questioned by some councillors during the meeting, including Jo-Anne Wright, Karen Principe, and the mayor
Asked by Wright if the 90 units at Williams Hall (10030 102A Ave.) would be truly affordable, Ivan Beljan, founder of Beljan Development, told councillors the goal for the Downtown conversion is housing people “starting their life” including students and new graduates.
“Not having the pressure of having to pay market rent … having a low-cost option is going to be well-served and well-needed for the youth and young adults of the city,” he told councillors on Wednesday.
The city is allocating $6.5 million to this project. The developer plans to work with Youth Agency Collaboration and Boyle Street Community Services to find eligible tenants.
Beljan took possession of the former YMCA building in 2017 and initially planned to have it refurbished with micro suites by the second quarter of 2019. The current plans include opening a brew house, food hall, retail market, office spaces, and wellness and fitness centre, according to the project website.
Jasper Place Wellness Centre’s three 12-unit bridge housing buildings will receive $1.6 million combined in municipal grants. These will be staffed 24/7 with programs meant to improve tenants’ mental and physical health, help with addictions, and help find them permanent housing, a staff report states. Rents will stay “affordable” for 40 years and be no higher than 80 per cent of average market rates.
Murray Soroka, asked by Principe how they can make the homes more affordable — using the 30 per cent of income marker — said doing so would require more funding from the provincial and federal governments.