This week’s Homestyle Breakfast Benefit, organized by the St. Albert Housing Society (SAHS), has given city residents plenty to chew on – most importantly, a reminder of the pressing need for affordable housing.
Around 200 people turned out to Tuesday’s gathering at the St. Albert Curling Club in support of the non-profit group. The fundraiser is key for SAHS, which currently owns 27 housing units rented at 15 to 20 per cent below market rates, according to information on its website.
That number of units is not enough to meet the rising demand of a growing city.
The lack of options is clearly frustrating not only for those on a tight budget who are searching for shelter but for housing advocates who say they face daily pleas for assistance. It is commendable the housing society has not let that frustration deter it from its commitment to provide viable accommodations for those in need.
Mayor Cathy Heron recently called affordable housing “a huge mandate” for city council, which has just entered its second year of a four-year term. The question remains how the city plans to address that particular mandate in a timely fashion.
According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., housing is considered affordable when less than 30 per cent of a household’s gross income covers the cost of shelter.
Statistics from the Canadian Rental Index show 39 per cent of households in St. Albert are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and utilities.
Figures also show the average monthly rent and utilities for St. Albert is $1,555, while the average in the province sits at $1,280. That’s a significant gap, which places a huge burden on the wallets of those in the lower-income brackets in this community.
Finding an affordable place in which to live and raise their families has been a struggle for several city residents who were shopping at the Walmart Supercentre Thursday morning.
“It’s been hard, definitely. We’re getting by, but it would be great if there were homes that had lower rents, that were more affordable,” said Michelle Levasseur, who lives in Erin Ridge with her husband and three children. “It would be nice to have a little more money in my wallet instead of having so much go to putting a roof over our heads.”
David Walker, a father of two who moved to the city in 2016, said, “It’s expensive to live here. Trying to find a place I could afford wasn’t easy. I wish I didn’t have to pay so much on a place. If there were apartments or townhouses where the cost was lower, that would make me happy and probably a lot of other people, too.”
As Doug Griffiths, former MLA and guest speaker at Tuesday morning’s breakfast, put it, affordable housing is key if a community is to grow and prosper. A community that doesn’t have affordable housing or woefully lacks it is not a healthy community, because it is rejecting an entire segment of the population that can make positive contributions. St. Albert doesn’t want to be that community, and it’s up to our local politicians to ensure that doesn’t happen.