A group of St. Albert pastors is publicly endorsing the Habitat for Humanity project that was recently approved for 70 Arlington Dr. in Akinsdale.
The project is an important step in providing some much-needed affordable housing, said a statement issued by a group called the St. Albert Christian Ministerial.
“Part of how you determine the greatness of a city is in the compassion of its people. I think this is a way that we can show our compassion,” said Rev. Dean Kurpjuweit of the Next Christian Community church.
Kurpjuweit chairs the St. Albert Christian Ministerial, a group of churches that seeks to encourage social justice causes.
Altogether, 11 church ministers signed a letter of endorsement that the ministerial sent to the newly elected council and local media. The endorsement is meant to encourage the new city council to stay the course and not try to reverse the previous council’s decision, Kurpjuweit said.
City council angered Akinsdale residents by holding a special meeting Sept. 29 and approving a 30-unit development at the surplus school site.
Pastors regularly encounter people who find it financially difficult to live in St. Albert, Kurpjuweit said. The group believes the city is richer when it’s welcoming to people of all socio-economic classes.
“We think we represent a broad spectrum of our community and that affordable housing, this Habitat for Humanity project, is something good for our city regardless of where it’s located,” Kurpjuweit said.
The most recent public hearing saw only one member of the public speak in favour of the project, compared to dozens who were opposed. Kurpjuweit said he’s been disappointed with the level of resistance and felt a response from church leaders expressing their support was long overdue.
“We didn’t want this to be a political piece so we thought it would be best to wait until after the election,” he said.
Akinsdale resident Gerry Kress has been at the centre of neighbourhood resistance throughout months of often-heated debate. He insisted the real issue is the appropriate use of a former school site and not affordable housing.
“I think what might be more appropriate for [church leaders] to do is throw their support behind affordable housing but not necessarily this particular project,” Kress said.
“Maybe they should remain neutral to a certain degree, because we’re all people of faith as well and we have concerns so it’s kind of like we’re the bad people, which we’re not.”
Rev. David Wulkan of Christ Community Church signed the letter even though he lives across the street and a few doors down from the Arlington site. He said he’s had his own concerns about the scale and quality of the proposed development but doesn’t quite understand the level of resistance that’s persisted in the neighbourhood.
“We’ve read all the things that have come into our mailboxes from neighbours about property values and concerns about crime. I understand the emotion involved but I also feel that this is important,” he said.
“If it had not been for a lot of things that God and other people had done, I might well be somebody looking for that kind of housing,” he added.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said he wondered during the public hearing process where all the supporters were but he respects the churches’ decision to wait until after the election to weigh in on the issue.
“Here’s where they are and at least they’re communicating. I’m very proud of the churches in the community for doing that,” Crouse said.
“I think it’s an endorsement that we’ve done the right thing for the greater good of the St. Albert community.”