A look at Alberta’s new housing plan

By Martin Lussier

Premier Ed Stelmach announced the government would be undertaking a 10-year plan to address homelessness in communities across Alberta last week. This announcement couldn’t come at a better time for some, as the 2006 Homeless Count of Calgary identified over 3,400 people without homes. Stelmach pledged to build 11,000 affordable homes over the next ten years, 4,000 of which are to be built in Calgary.

Charged with the task of leading the new secretariat is associate minister of affordable housing and Urban Development Calgary-Cross MLA Yvonne Fritz.

“We know that the homeless population is increasing and not decreasing, and that is directly related to the strong economy,” said Fritz. “In the short term, we are focused on prevention and shelter, and transitional housing. We provide those programs now, and the rent supplement program has increased significantly to $33 million this year.”

The rent supplement program is a preventative program designed to help keep people in their homes who cannot afford to stay, explained Fritz. The benchmark for assistance is considered to be people spending over 30 per cent of their income on housing.

“I met with the [University of Calgary’s] Students’ Union, and attended their forum,” said Fritz. “Their ideas were excellent. We are enacting some of their ideas immediately, like inclusional zoning. Also, the Students’ Union had requested a study on the issues of using surplus school zones to create affordable housing, building student housing with immediate access to major [public] transportation routes. We are going to be building a committee to look into those concerns.”

Fritz was very adamant that collaborative approach with communities is the key to success.

“The province will work in and with communities across the province to look at the root causes of homelessness, and we are going to assist the municipalities with their 10-year plans.” she said. “The secretariat will provide leadership in this respect. One of the things that has been stressed to us is that we have to do things differently, or we will just get the same results.”

Fritz also stressed the importance of finding people homes immediately, then providing them with the supportive services they need to succeed.

Mustard Seed development officer Diana Schwerk explained she is pleased the government is looking at the issue of homelessness in the province. Schwerk indicated that Fritz is well known to the “Seed,” and works very well with them.

“This plan seems to have a real target and vision of building 11,000 homes across the province, 4,000 of which are to be built in Calgary, which is really great,” said Schwerk. “We have an interest in working with the 10-year plan, and we are going to need people who are willing to step up to the plate with ideas like the Calgary Homelessness Foundation.”

Schwerk also pointed out short-term needs will continue to have to be met.

“You can’t be ripping away services like shelters,” said Schwerk. “[the plan] will require some short-term planning.”

The Mustard Seed currently has its own proposal for the building of a 410-unit apartment building to be built in downtown Calgary on property they already own, 350 of which are going to be providing accommodation at 30 per cent of the income of their residents, and the other remaining units are for people who are below that benchmark.

“Dave,” as he preferred to be called for the purposes of this article, is a construction worker in Calgary. He identified himself as one of the many working-class poor in Calgary who cannot afford a home based on his wages. He noted he was hopeful about the 10-year plan.

“Every time I end up in a place, I can never seem to keep ahead of the rent going up,” he said. “I hope that this kind of plan will help raise awareness that there are guys just like me out there working hard and still having no place to go. Ten years is a long time, but I’ve been around a heck of a lot longer than that. I hope this will help me find somewhere permanent to live instead of this constant puddle jumping.”


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