St. Albert residents have until Oct. 18 to decide who should fill the city's six available council chairs.
In this, our first instalment of a six-part Q&A series, the Gazette asked those seeking election to address affordable housing. Responses have only been edited for spelling, grammar and length. The Gazette does not vouch for the accuracy of candidates' statements.
St. Albert's 2005 affordable housing strategy estimates that the city, at that time, had between 2,500 and 3,300 households that were in need of affordable housing.
Since 2007, city council has sought to address the need by legalizing basement suites and providing or pledging about $4.4 million (mainly from provincial affordable housing grants) toward several projects: two Habitat for Humanity duplexes in North Ridge, a proposed 24-unit Habitat project in Akinsdale, a 96-unit apartment complex in North Ridge and a 42-unit addition for disabled adults at North Ridge Lodge.
To what extent do you feel that affordable housing is an issue in St. Albert and what would be your preferred approach to addressing it?
How would you assess the current council's handling of 70 Arlington Dr. and how would you approach the issue? How can the city strike a balance between affordable housing needs and the concerns of neighbouring residents?
Affordable housing is needed especially for young adults starting off, young families, single parent families, those living on a single income, seniors living on a fixed income and those with special needs such as AISH recipients. As individuals move through the life cycle they experience various housing needs.
A long-term plan is needed to ensure appropriate housing is available in the quantities required and council has purchased land at the Badger site for future affordable housing. Private developers are also contributing to the solution with plans to build rental apartments.
City council learns from every experience and they continually strive for improvement. Communication is always the key to resolving concerns. I would like to see a committee with representatives from Habitat for Humanity, council, residents who live near Arlington Drive and residents in need of housing to discuss the issues and make recommendations so the city can benefit from this experience.
More about Len Bracko.
I support the actions of council as the handling of the 70 Arlington Dr. issue is consistent with the direction defined in the "St. Albert Affordable Housing Strategy," a guiding document developed in 2005.
However, I would advocate the construction of new creative affordable housing units through the introduction of innovative lands use plans. Housing meeting the "affordability" criteria of requiring 30 per cent or less of the household gross monthly income is particularly relevant to seniors on fixed income and young people.
"Affordable" should not mean cheaply constructed. An appropriately sized dwelling more fitting to the needs of seniors or youth may be less expensive yet still provide for the "pride in ownership" that adds value to the City of St. Albert.
Affordable housing is a need that faces all communities. Addressing this need requires the participation of all orders of government, the private sector and the citizens of the community.
More about Wes Brodhead.
Affordable housing is an issue in every municipality, and it is council's responsibility to assure that housing for all incomes is available. It disappoints me that single families, seniors and young people need to look for housing elsewhere.
St. Albert's Affordable Housing Society is working collaboratively with council to identify projects to address this issue. I am proud that council, in co-operation with the province, has endorsed several projects as noted above.
My commitment to the residents of Akinsdale was to listen to their concerns and take them into consideration as council moved forward with an affordable housing project at 70 Arlington Dr. I am committed to council's direction of a 24-unit development and hope that Habitat for Humanity will proceed with the project. Public hearings are helpful in that council hears the concerns of the affected residents and the will of other community stakeholders. To me, balance means compromise.
More about James Burrows.
Funding affordable housing is a provincial responsibility. Municipalities receive provincial grants and decide which projects to fund. The issue is no greater or lesser in St. Albert than any other municipality.
The handling of 70 Arlington Dr. has been highly questionable. Council has created a controversy and a statement of claim has been issued. Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars may have to be spent to defend the action.
The number of units to be built has dropped from 58 to 24, and at Monday's council meeting, one councillor wanted to reduce the number to 18. The original developer has pulled out and Habitat for Humanity has to determine if 24 units are feasible. More public hearings are needed.
Concerns of neighbouring residents should have been addressed prior to the announcement. Councillors should make the decision based on the project being in his/her backyard.
This constant debate regarding the number of units indicates council really doesn't know how best to proceed.
More about Norm Harley.
Entry-level and affordable housing are imperative to the integrity of our social health and economic growth. Young people, young families and many seniors can't afford to live here due to lack of entry-level housing and high property taxes.
My approach is threefold:
1. Change the land use bylaw to allow for smaller lots for entry-level housing.
2. Apply for government grants to build affordable housing like Big Lake Pointe.
3. Involve the private sector in assisting with the provision of entry-level housing for their employees. There is no economic growth without entry-level housing.
The 70 Arlington Dr. issue is one of green space, not affordable housing. Residents of the area felt they did not have much say in the proposed development.
We have plenty of land zoned and ready for entry-level and affordable housing, conflict free. This is where we plan to build Big Lake Pointe and this is where we should go in the future.
More about Stanley Haroun.
No question that St. Albert has a problem with affordable housing. We need more!
Higher density is not anti-St. Albert. Prospective buyers may prefer smaller homes, condos, etc. This will require a change to the land use bylaw to allow for smaller lot sizes. Options should be clearly established early and as part of the planning with the developers.
All new area structure plans should require a variety of densities and lot sizes. We need to avoid circumstances where affordable housing is rammed into the older neighbourhoods. I disagree with rezoning in established areas, without consent from the existing residents.
Council could have approached 70 Arlington Dr. differently. I say this after listening to the pleas from residents. Whatever the truth is, I find it disheartening that residents feel so ignored and in limbo for so long. Council needs to be inclusive, compassionate and then decisive. Balance between concerns and needs!
More about Cathy Heron.
Homelessness and affordable housing is a more complex subject than most people realize. Earlier this year I made a presentation to council in a public hearing outlining the results of my research on this topic. We have people in this city who are in jeopardy and include the homeless, the house poor, seniors on fixed incomes, single parent families struggling to keep a roof over their heads, AISH recipients and those who are couch surfing.
In an attempt to address these problems, council has:
• Introduced a rent subsidy program.
• Initiated a basement suite compensation plan.
• Supported the Community Village and Food Bank.
• Pledged support for Habitat builds.
• Pledged support to the St. Albert Housing Society for a 96-unit apartment complex.
• Supported the 42-unit addition for disabled adults at North Ridge Lodge.
Even with all the initiatives mentioned above, the city is only touching the tip of the iceberg.
More about Gareth Jones.
We need to strive to find opportunities to offer our residents a better mix of living accommodations. We have made good progress in this direction in the past three years. I am pleased with the progress that our community has achieved and the process that was used to get to where we are.
The 70 Arlington Dr. issue has been a challenge for this council. I supported the proposal but we did not have enough information when it was first brought to council. I was concerned with the number of dwellings, therefore wanted input by consultants and residents of Akinsdale. Everyone should have known what could work for Habitat in terms of the number of homes that would make the project affordable. All stakeholders have learned a great deal in the past year. There is a process that is required to grow as a strong, progressive community and the citizens of this city will find a way.
More about Roger Lemieux.
What is affordable and when does the city assume the responsibility for providing housing? Asking a city the size of St. Albert to assume the costs of providing housing for 15 per cent of residents, or 3,300 families, is not realistic.
The bulk of affordable housing should be constructed by the private sector. We can assist by zoning land appropriately, reducing development restrictions and fees, reducing the tax burden, ending double taxation in condominiums and requiring a certain percentage of affordable housing in each new development like we did in areas like Grandin and Braeside.
The 70 Arlington Dr. issue represents a failure in land use planning. Euclidean zoning principles and land use codes were ignored and community input was not properly solicited nor accommodated. I have proposed a neighbourhood rights bylaw to ensure that the average resident has a say in development and to ensure a fair and transparent process for developers.
More about Cam MacKay.
Affordable housing is certainly an issue in St. Albert, but as it is a delicate issue, it is one that requires proper consideration and action. The steps the city has taken so far, such as legalizing basement suites, have been good first steps, but there is still more that can be done to combat the problem.
The Habitat for Humanity projects do offer a solution to this problem, but not one that is universally accepted. If the city is to find a solution, then it must do so without any community conflicts. City council and administration must first engage in dialogue with both the existing residents and those who will use such projects, then work together to find a solution.
In regards to the Arlington Drive project, when city administration designates a land use change that can be viewed in a negative manner, the residents of that neighborhood should be involved in finding a viable solution.
More about Robyn Morrison.
Affordable housing is required to support the changing demographics of the community. A range of housing stock will help attract businesses that create jobs.
The city needs to work with stakeholders during the planning process to ensure regulatory requirements and needs of the area are met. A designated percentage of land has to be available for affordable housing. The types of affordable housing could include townhouses, duplexes or condominiums.
Council's handling of 70 Arlington Dr. should have got the city and residents together at the beginning of the planning process so both parties could articulate their views on how to best develop the property. This would have established common ground to move forward with a development in the best interests of all parties.
The development of 70 Arlington Dr. requires application of infill guidelines, so the development blends with the established area. The number of units needs to match regular-sized lots to avoid "overbuilding" the site.
More about Malcolm Parker.
The issue of affordable housing is one which shall have a direct effect on the sustainability of our community. With the rate of taxes as they are it has become difficult to attract younger families to St. Albert. Many residents, namely households with lower to fixed incomes, have expressed a desire to develop affordable housing strategies and stabilize tax increases.
The initiatives to build mid-level density, low-income homes and basement suites are a logical manner to approach the need of affordable housing.
I do, however, feel that the management of 70 Arlington Dr. did not reflect the duty of council to its electorate. After attending the council meeting on Monday Sept. 20, it would appear that this specific development plan was in complete contrast to the opinions of the residents of Akinsdale. The basis of our governance must ensure that its electorate have a voice and it is heard.
More about Aisling Pollard-Kientzel.
James Van Damme
What might be considered affordable housing in Edmonton may not be in St. Albert due to the higher property taxes here. With the recent real estate cool down, we need to reassess the market value for affordable housing.
Affordable housing developments can be planned into St. Albert's future and municipal development plan. We need to ensure the involvement of citizens and city administration at the forefront while stabilizing and lowering property taxes to make housing affordable for many and St. Albert sustainable for years to come.
With recent news of a lawsuit by the Akinsdale residents on the 70 Arlington Dr. development, the city needs to understand the risks associated to this development prior to making any decisions on approving such a development.
James Van Damme, under a new city council, will assist in determining the fate of 70 Arlington Dr. The risks associated to this development will be reviewed and mitigated while the citizens will finally be heard and not ignored.
More about James Van Damme.
The next question will be about St. Albert's annexed lands. Answers will appear in the Wednesday, Sept. 29 issue of the Gazette. Stay up to date and voice your opinions on all the issues by visiting the Election 2010 page at www.stalbertgazette.com.
Learn more about the candidates Tuesday when we live blog from an all-candidates forum at the Arden Theatre.