Housing grant decrease upheld

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City councillors agreed to uphold a 10 per cent cut to the St. Albert Housing Society’s operating grant funding during budget deliberations on Nov. 28.

The cut came as a recommendation from the community services advisory board, which reviewed funding requests from eight groups. The society said the cut could affect its ability to grow.

Councillors approved $92,090 in funding for the housing society, a decrease of 10 per cent from 2017 funding levels and more than $20,000 lower than what the housing society had requested for 2018.

The vote garnered some relief from housing society representatives after councillors also defeated a motion to hold back funding altogether until a memorandum of understanding between the society and the city is completed in mid-2018.

That motion, put forward by Coun. Natalie Joly, sparked an amendment from Coun. Sheena Hughes to hold back 25 per cent of the grant funding, as well as an amendment to the amendment by Coun. Jacquie Hansen to restore funding to 2017 levels. All three motions failed.

Several members of the housing society attended the Nov. 28 meeting.

“I think I’m satisfied with council’s decision,” said director Ron Hierlihy after the meeting.

Councillors were split 3-4 on withholding funding until the memorandum is complete, with Coun. Wes Brodhead, Joly and Coun. Ray Watkins voting in favour.

Brodhead said operating grant agreements should always be open for discussion on how to serve the needs of the community and said councillors should not be “vilified” as not supporting affordable housing.

“As a council and city, we need to take a look at how we do business to make sure we’re doing it in the best way possible,” he said.

Joly said council needs to see the memorandum of understanding before deciding on how to fund the housing society and that does not mean councillors don’t support the society.

“It does mean we want all available information to make our decisions and that we respect the recommendations of administration,” she said.

But Coun. Ken MacKay, Hansen and Mayor Cathy Heron said funding should not be tied to the memorandum.

MacKay said council needs to have a discussion about affordable housing in St. Albert but supported issuing the society its grant funding.

“I don’t think it’s fair we penalize this organization at this time while the (memorandum) is still outstanding,” he said.

Heron said she wouldn’t support any motion where funding amounts were too low or too high, or any motion to tie funding to the memorandum.

“I don’t see how any two groups can come to the table to negotiate when one is holding (funding) over their head,” she said.

She voted in favour of the 10 per cent cut but against Hansen’s motion to restore funding to 2017 levels.

Heron added that the expectation of reduced funding for the housing society has been implied over the past few years as council expects the society to be moving toward self-sustainability.

“A vote for or against the housing society is not a vote for or against affordable housing in St. Albert,” she said, pointing to Homeland Housing and Habitat for Humanity as two other organizations that work within St. Albert.

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