An affordable housing and assisted living provider for St. Albert seniors has received $400,000 for maintenance and renewal projects from the provincial government, however the agency says they have to use the funding for their Westlock facilities.
The one-time grant for Homeland Housing, a public non-profit that operates throughout Alberta including St. Albert, comes from $16 million in provincial funding that was initially announced in September, in which a total of 30 housing providers across the province received funding.
Alberta's minister of seniors, community and social services, Jason Nixon, said at a press conference on Nov. 22 that the funding will help agencies maintain their existing affordable housing stock.
“One of the things we heard loud and clear over the last several months was the need for more funding to keep affordable homes up to date,” Nixon said. “The types of projects that we're investing the $16 million in include repairing roofs..., replacing windows, upgrading elevators in seniors' apartments, replacing furnaces, boilers and ventilation systems, and making sure that existing structures will be there available for people to use them.”
In an interview, Raymond Cormie, the CEO of Homeland Housing, said the agency needs to use the funding to do upgrades and renovations at the organization's seniors' homes in Westlock, not St. Albert.
Although the government's funding announcement implies that the $400,000 is earmarked for St. Albert, Cormie explained, Homeland Housing isn't actually allowed to use the funding for the agency's three local properties as the funding can only be used in buildings owned by the provincial government, which the St. Albert facilities aren't.
“The funding cannot be used for any capital maintenance renewal for Homeland Housing-owned or management body-owned property,” Cormie said.
Homeland Housing operates seven different facilities in Westlock, many of which were originally built in the 1980s, Cormie said.
“Most of those buildings are now between 30 and 40 years old, and, as our homes age, there's a need to do refurbishment to address inefficient appliances or to make sure our homes [are safe],” he said.
“We will be undertaking a number of suite renewals that primarily will include upgrades to kitchen cabinets and bathrooms and then some of the remaining funding will go towards common areas, things such as hallway carpet replacement.”
Homeland Housing's three St. Albert facilities — Chateau Mission Court, North Ridge Lodge, and North Ridge Place — were built in 1980, 1992, and 2010, respectively, although Chateau Mission Court was renovated in 1999.
The three facilities combined provide 135 supportive seniors' living suites or near-market-cost apartments.
Cormie said that making sure existing affordable housing units remain on the market is something that governments need to prioritize, rather than all attention and funding going towards constructing new units.
“We can't ignore the current stock and only focus on building new because the affordable stock provides huge value for not only the tenants that are in those buildings, but also for the taxpayers in Alberta,” he said. “It would be really nice if government introduced a predictable, sustainable capital maintenance and renewal funding program that allowed for some predictability, instead of a stop-go approach and ensuring that the buildings are well maintained and essentially kept up to date.”
“In government there's always competing priorities and funding is always limited, however, I think having a sustainable, planned approach to capital maintenance and renewal is critical, especially as these properties age.”
In an email, Heather Barlow, press secretary to Minister Nixon, said the government's 2023 budget allocated $2.7 million for capital maintenance and renewal projects in affordable housing buildings not owned by the provincial government.
“Grants are also provided yearly,” Barlow said. “Providing housing is a shared responsibility with all orders of government – municipal, provincial and federal, and all housing providers have a role to play in ensuring their facilities are in fair condition.”
Barlow did not specifically answer the Gazette's question about whether or not the government would consider implementing a fund like the one Cormie described.