Mustard Seed finds a new home

By Rhiannon Kirkland

Last week, the City of Calgary planning commission approved the Mustard Seed Street Ministry’s application for a proposed affordable housing development in the Beltline. The 19-story building will feature 228 units of affordable housing and include ground-level retail space as well as three stories for Mustard Seed Street Ministry education and employment services.

“We have over 4,000 men and women that are living on the streets and if you just look at our own population, sometimes up to 60 per cent of our guests are working,” said spokesperson Courtney Fliss. “They’re dependant on the emergency shelter system solely because there isn’t affordable housing for them.”

The Mustard Seed hopes to begin construction in spring 2010 and has between $80 and $90 million budgeted for the project Fliss said.

The provincial government has promised to contribute $21.5 million to the project, according to Alderman John Mar.

The affordable housing project is part of Calgary’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, modeled after Portland, Oregon’s plan of the same name. Affordable housing is a key part of Portland’s plan, said Mar.

“[Portland is] in their fourth year and as a result they’ve seen over a 70 per cent reduction in the homeless population,” said Mar.

The Mustard Seed’s original proposal included 425 units, which was cut to 228 because some members of the community raised concerns over shelter space being included.

“We’ve addressed those [issues] by ensuring that this is affordable housing and not a shelter,” said Mar. “By doing that we were able to win the support unanimously of all members of council as well as the Calgary Planning Commission.”

Some of the 371 individuals currently staying at the Mustard Seed’s emergency shelter in the southeast or who are involved in Mustard Seed programs will be eligible to become residents.

Successful applicants will be decided on an individual basis, Fliss said. The building will be alcohol and drug free.

“Affordable housing is a significant part of what we do,” said Fliss. “We recognize that having a place to call home for our guests is really one of the first steps to helping someone truly move forward in their lives.”

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