NEEDED SPACE- An interior look at one of the many affordable housing suites in the new River Valley Apartments downtown which is set to open next month.

New downtown project to help ease affordable housing crunch

No shortage of tenants expected as River Valley Apartments set to open next month

A project set to open soon in downtown Red Deer will provide the City with much-needed affordable housing stock, officials say.

The old Rancher’s Valley Inn hotel, now the River Valley Apartments, is just about ready for its first tenants.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said River Valley Apartments, which is being spearheaded by Potter’s Hands Developments, is exactly the kind of housing that the City’s downtown needs.

“I’m delighted to see this. It really makes good sense. It’s perfect for people who live or work downtown, or for students, people who have tight budgets, who don’t have a car and can use transit,” he said. “They are built with a mixture of private and government funding with the understanding that rents will be kept 10 per cent or better below market rates.”

Located at 5017 — 49 St., the 71-unit residential development also includes 13,500 sq. ft. of commercial space on the main floor. Situated close to the transit terminal, grocery stores and RDC’s new downtown business college the building is also part of the City’s crime-free multi-housing pilot project. All tenants have to sign a lease agreement that states they will live a crime-free lifestyle.

“That’s something fairly new that the rental people have put into place,” said Flewwelling. “It’s used in many facilities in the City. The rental people find it’s easier to control things, saying we know you’ve got references and we’ve screened you, but we want you to continue to behave. It saves a lot of moving in and out and landlord problems. You’ve signed an agreement and that’s it.”

River Valley Apartments is designed to offer affordable downtown living for individuals, couples or families with incomes around or under $34,000 a year. Bachelor suites are $400 a month, one bedrooms are $500 and two bedrooms are $600.

There are 13 accessible handicapped suites. Total cost of the project is just over $7 million.

Stacey Carmichael, director of housing with Safe Harbour and chair of the Red Deer Housing Committee, said the new downtown complex will fill a great need for affordable housing.

“Red Deer is an expensive place to live, and even though the vacancy rate is getting better, there are many people living under the threshold of $47,000 annual income it is estimated you need for a house,” she said.

Carmichael added Red Deer still lacks affordable and alternative housing for people on more modest incomes.

City Councillor Cindy Jefferies, who has worked on the City’s Greater Downtown Action Plan, said “It’s really positive. I think River Valley Apartments is a great opportunity for the downtown. It is improving the mix of downtown accommodations, and while some people are nervous about that, and we’re concerned on council too, but we need a mix of housing — not more of the same.

“We need to provide lower cost alternatives because we want to bring people downtown, make the downtown more attractive and get more density there.”

It’s all about making downtown a more happening place and if there isn’t a variety of housing there and nothing is happening after 5 p.m., people will go home from work, she said.

Jefferies said developments like River Valley Apartments, and other initiatives like the new Veteran’s Park on Ross St. make downtown a better place to be.

Flewwelling added that a spectrum of housing downtown is needed, from expensive to mid-range to low.

“The mix is important so there’s an opportunity for all income-levels to live downtown. In the future we also want higher densities of people living in or near downtown and we need to build up the variety of housing available to attract more people to live there.”

Meanwhile, River Valley Apartments, like RDC’s downtown outlet and CAT Theatre moving into the old Uptown Theatre, is helping to make the downtown more appealing for people who want to live, work or invest in the City’s core, said Stan Schalk, a partner with Potter’s Hands Developments.

“We’re getting to that stage, we’re hoping to move a few people in February 1, but since people have to give a month’s notice when moving out a more realistic date for most new tenants is March 1,” he said.

“We’re happy with how things are going. Construction’s gone at a steady pace, but there have been challenges because it’s a unique project. It’s an old building and the new third and fourth floors are independent from the first two.

“The applications are coming in and we’re not worried about filling the place.”

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