Affordable housing to enter Edmonton's suburbs, battles may ensue
Mayor Iveson calls on all councillors to advocate for the housing units
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Neighbourhood battles may soon begin to brew in Edmonton’s supposedly quiet suburbs, as city council gears up to debate the fate of new affordable housing complexes for outlying neighbourhoods.
Last week, Mayor Don Iveson called on all city councillors to advocate for affordable housing in their communities, rather than push back against them.
“This is one of the most critical questions in the election,” he said. “Are you going to say, ‘This is fine as long as this is now in my ward,’ or are you going to embrace the challenge of finding sites.”
The mayor’s comments come after city council voted to agree, in principle, that affordable housing should be evenly dispersed throughout Edmonton.
This means each community should aspire to have at least 10 per cent of all its housing units be affordable housing. Right now, the city’s core communities are inundated with these complexes while suburban neighbourhoods are largely without.
“Council is committed from the vote,” Iveson said, “though the proof will be when actual proposals come forward.”
Onus on council to approve proposals
Affordable housing will be a big issue for Edmonton’s next city council. That’s because both the provincial and federal government have recently announced large funding commitments to get them off the ground.
But before they rise, it’ll be up to council to approve them.
Ward 9 Coun. Bryan Anderson, who isn’t seeking re-election but voted in favour of evenly distributing affordable housing, said he has to understand what’s at play before simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to new developments.
That’s because the issue is complex and involves lots of factors, he said.
For one, there are different types of affordable housing that could enter the city’s neighbourhoods. They range from sites that the government is partially subsidizing, to hard-to-house complexes where formerly homeless people are being treated for their addictions or mental health.
Anderson explained communities could push back against these developments, especially if they are hard-to-house units.
“You can go from next to no pushback to serious pushback,” he said.
City should look to surplus school sites
Lots of new affordable housing complexes could be developed on surplus school sites, which are empty fields that had once been set aside for new schools but now can be used for residential development.
Anderson said communities generally treat these green spaces as their backyards. So, if affordable housing threatens their survival, council could expect some level of uproar.
“Once they get over the fact that they’re losing the field, they can then argue about the quality of the housing project and the residents that are going to move in,” he said.
But surplus school sites are just one piece to the puzzle, he said. That’s because the Blatchford development is expected to have 10 per cent of all units be affordable housing and, if the Coliseum is demolished, the Northlands site could be up for grabs.
Councillors will also have to consider the proximity of transit and retail to proposed affordable housing developments, he said, adding hard-to-house sites will need more nearby services.
“There are 50 levels of complexity here,” he said.
Affordable housing offers net benefit, mayor says
But Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack, whose west-side constituency contains fewer affordable housing developments than the core, said there’s no question he supports these sites.
“Many people who live in that housing are just like everyone else and want to be engaged in their communities,” he said.
He said it’ll be up to councillors to educate residents about the benefits of affordable housing, especially if they are hard-to-house units.
“There’s a huge financial reason we need this type of housing,” he said, pointing to a recent analysis that found Ambrose Place, which is located in the core, has ultimately saved the health care system money by keeping its clients out of hospital beds.
“Even if the first reaction is fear, we’ll bring stats and facts to prove otherwise,” Knack said.
“I think we just need to deliver on it,” he said. “We need to find sites and we need to say, ‘These are where these housing sites are going to go,’ and we need to show the net benefit to the community, and show that when they’re operated well, they have far less social disorder than the alternative, which is long-term chronic homelessness.”