Barely holding back her tears, Susan Grant slowly climbed the stage Tuesday morning to receive the keys to her new home.
Grant and her son Cory are the first residents of a two-bedroom apartment complex at Big Lake Pointe, a new housing project in the community.
The petite and fragile lady received the keys from Doris Vandersteen, executive director of the St. Albert Housing Society, at its fourth annual Homestyle Breakfast.
The non-profit organization is dedicated to expanding the city’s residential capacity for those who struggle to afford what is currently available.
To that end, it set a funding target of $1.5 million to offer 12 units in Big Lake Pointe.
The apartment complex offers 118 units, 78 of which are available at 10 per cent below market price.
The individuals and families moving into the 12 units are considered the most vulnerable in the community: victims of physical abuse, single-parent families and seniors living at or below the poverty line.
So far, the society has enough money to buy 2.4 apartments. The breakfast was held to aid the funding process, and to raise awareness of the housing need in the city.
According to current rental pricing, a single person would have to earn at least $17 per hour in order to afford rent on a single bedroom suite. That has to jump to $28 per hour for a three-bedroom unit.
Grant’s annual income is below $21,000. For the townhouse where she currently lives, she pays $1,345 a month, leaving $330 for utilities, food, clothing and other essentials.
Once she moves to her new apartment in March, she will pay only $500 per month, including heat and water.
Mayor Nolan Crouse, who spoke at the breakfast, said the community depends on more than just high-income levels to survive.
Someone also needs to tend the coffee shops and businesses around town, he said.
“We must, we must, we must brand ourselves as a place for all to live. And not the brand that some people have tried to portray us as a place for only the elite,” he said. “We have a beautiful community and we can be a community for all to live.”
So far, he said St. Albert has opened the doors to about 1,000 affordable homes, thanks in large part to initiatives like its basement suite program and Habitat For Humanity projects. The city will also see another 500 apartment units opening soon, he said.
Guest speaker Lynda Moffat, president of the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, said local employees spend hours on transit to come to work in St. Albert because they can’t afford housing in the community.
She said the city has taken a big step in recent years to provide more housing options and to send out their message that there was a need.
St. Albert, like all municipalities in the Capital region, is now required to provide smaller lots and higher densities for residential developments that allow for multi-family developments, she said.
She recounted incidents of elected officials who said affordable housing for St. Albert was in Edmonton and Morinville; and one resident who said he worked hard to afford living in St. Albert and poor people should live somewhere else.
“Wow. What a statement to make about who we are as a community. A community that prides itself on saying how important it is to be inclusive,” she said.
“Those people are living right here in St. Albert. We probably don’t even recognize or acknowledge the issues they each face every day.”
After struggling with illness for a year, and going through her entire savings, Grant received a liver transplant in 2012. In the past year, she’s lost more than 80 pounds and much of her hair.
She remembers telling her children once that she didn’t want to be home for her 50th birthday.
“I was thinking Mexico would be nice,” she said, and laughs. “Instead I ended up in the hospital.”
Without income support, she said she could probably not afford the pills she now has to take each day – or any other medications for that matter.
She barely has enough money to afford new clothes after going from size 16 to size two, not to mention a winter coat or boots for her son Cory.
“It was a struggle but we are lucky,” she said.