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    Categories: Local News

Council sits on $515K housing grant

City council will sit on a $515,000 grant that administration recommended handing over to Habitat for Humanity to top up funding for Aurora Place.

Council postponed a decision on the donation until it receives input from community groups on how to spend surplus affordable housing grants. Council did, however, add funding for several other affordable housing initiatives like basement suite conversions and rent subsidies, using almost half of the $930,000 in leftover grants from the province.

But the recommendation to boost funding for Aurora Place attracted the most attention Tuesday after it was criticized by the St. Albert Housing Society.

“How does giving Habitat for Humanity this additional $515,000 add to the stock of affordable housing in St. Albert?” society chair David McGreer asked council.

McGreer noted Habitat for Humanity Edmonton has already committed to its 30-unit development at 70 Arlington Dr. and kick-started fundraising. He said he was puzzled with the recommendation given council’s goal with the grant dollars should be to add as many affordable units as possible, something the Habitat donation would not accomplish.

City manager Bill Holtby said the injection would double per-unit funding for Aurora Place and help Habitat complete the project more quickly.

Basement suite backlash

The housing society also questioned putting $230,000 toward the city’s basement suite grant program. The money gives homeowners up to $10,000 to bring existing basement suites to building code standards and $15,000 for new suites.

“What’s really happening here is the grant program is increasing the number of suites available at market or at market-equivalent rates, not affordable rates,” McGreer said.

The St. Albert Housing Society should have been consulted on the recommendations, he added.

The not-for-profit group is trying to get its 96-unit Big Lake Pointe affordable housing development off the ground in North Ridge.

The city spent $2.3 million to buy the land, however the first phase failed to qualify for a provincial grant through a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process.

The Sturgeon Foundation was also unsuccessful in accessing dollars for the second phase of its addition to North Ridge Lodge. When that happened, the dollars the city committed to the project, about $660,000, were freed up for other housing initiatives.

While councillors agreed about seeking public input for the cash earmarked for Habitat, they saw value in continuing the basement suite program.

The program has funded 46 basement suite conversions, utilizing $750,000 initially allotted. Affordable housing liaison staffer Lory Scott said 20 landlords are on a waiting to list for future grants and that the $230,000 would fund between 15 to 23 more units.

Coun. Len Bracko said that would help young families and seniors in St. Albert and urged council to move forward as quickly as possible.

Council also committed $185,000 for rental subsidies, extending the program another year to 2014. The money had been earmarked for the Temporary Residential Services (TRS) Committee to purchase a townhouse or apartment for transitional housing, something it had difficulties accomplishing, Scott said.

Coun. Cathy Heron advocated postponing a decision on the $515,000 until June 21. That will give the city time to consult the housing society, Sturgeon Foundation, TRS and other groups and get an update on Habitat’s fundraising totals.

“I’d really prefer to postpone this issue until we have some input,” she said.

City retains land

Council held a private session to decide what to do with the 1.3 hectares acquired for Big Lake Pointe. Mayor Nolan Crouse couldn’t say what was discussed, but confirmed the city will retain the land.

In an interview, McGreer said the housing society is re-evaluating plans for the project.

“The society is exploring options on how it could proceed with development and not have to count on necessarily additional funding from the province, but at the same time not exclude the possibility [of accessing grants].”

Alberta Housing and Urban Affairs spokesman Dan LaVille confirmed an RFP package is in the works and should be made public sometime in May.

Both the housing society and Sturgeon Foundation have previously said they’d re-apply for future RFP bids.

Affordable Housing Grants

Basement suite program: $229,351
Rental subsidies: $185,000
Admin costs: $10,500
Dollars committed: $424,851
Dollars unallocated: $515,000

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