Officials work to address potential affordable housing crisis

  • Feb. 3, 2016 3:36 p.m.

This three-part series will examine the complexities of the current affordable housing shortage in Red Deer that has the potential to be an emerging crisis if it is not addressed.

Concern has been expressed by City officials over the potential affordable housing crisis in Red Deer.

“This is by virtue of the fact the City’s population is growing, the regional draw continues to grow and also because of the state of the economy, the scarcity of capital resources for new affordable housing starts and the sunset clause on capital retention policies on private affordable housing developments,” said Mayor Tara Veer. “We know we have an affordable housing shortage now. We have a window to exercise leadership to preempt and mitigate the effects of that. There is the potential of a housing crisis if we do not get ahead of the curve on those.”

Veer added the imminent need of this is the shortage of shelter space in the City.

Last fall, City council approved funding to provide more overnight shelter spaces at People’s Place. Council gave the green light to fund $45,427 which allowed Safe Harbour Society to add an extra 11 shelter spaces to the existing 35 beds. The funds cover a full-time staff position 12 hours a day/night, seven days a week from Nov. 1st to April 30th. Funding for this overnight component of the Winter Emergency Response is available through the province’s Outreach and Support Services grant administered by the City.

“Our community has always been very responsive. With the closure of Berachah Place it became clear when there was a gap in the services provided for vulnerable citizens during cold, winter months, there was an expectation as the local order of government that we had an ethical responsibility to respond to the emergency need in the community,” she said, adding funding for such services is a provincial mandate.

In 2014, the City partnered with a number of community agencies to provide an emergency temporary daytime warming shelter as a stop-gap measure. That temporary daytime warming shelter closed in April 2015.

“That centre was only intended for the winter months and upon that anticipated closure, it became clear there were substantial individuals at risk that it was serving. There was still an ethical responsibility to come up with an interim solution until the provincial government comes up with its made-in Red Deer solution to resolve shelter space – both overnight and daytime shelter space,” said Veer. “We recognize there are agencies that need to be pulled together for that and there would be considerable planning and capital and operating dollar allocation which needs to occur. We recognize that it would likely take a couple of years to resolve the issue above and beyond a band-aid solution.”

To address this need in the meantime, the City has worked with local agencies to come up with another provision for a daytime warming shelter for the next two years.

Last fall, council approved the designation for a temporary daytime warming shelter which is located adjacent to Safe Harbour Society at 5246 53rd Ave. The centre is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. City officials said between 60-90 individuals are seen at the temporary warming centre daily. Individuals using the service are connected with resources in the community and Alberta Works has put in some computers so people can get assistance doing a resume and searching for jobs or housing. There are also two overnight shelters in the community – one at People’s Place and one at Safe Harbour Society which caters to those who are intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

“In recognition of the fact that shelter space is the direct service delivery mandate of the provincial government, council also passed resolution to submit the costs associated with that to the provincial government – that has since been done.”

In the meantime, included in the 2016 budget process was a council approval of $100,000 to study shelter needs including a strategy to address medium and long-term shelter needs in the community. These costs will also be submitted to the provincial government.

“It became apparent that our council and City administration wanted to move past temporary fixes and band-aid solutions. We wanted to address root issues and come up with a longer term sustainable solution for our community,” said Veer, adding that shelter space along the continuum of options is a gap in both the City’s plan and the province’s plan to end homelessness. “We certainly do not want to entrench people in shelter space. The ultimate objective remains to move people up the continuum of housing from transitional housing to affordable housing and hopefully to market housing.”

The shelter needs study will look at long-term, sustainable options of shelter space in the City. The study will look at what the number of adequate overnight shelter spaces are needed in the City as well as location consolidation around services needed.

“As part of that, we probably need to take a look at our own 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness because we’re approaching the sunset of the original plan that was adopted. We’ll need to make updates to that plan soon anyways and a significant component will likely be to add safe and adequate shelter space,” said Veer, adding the City will be working with local agencies, stakeholders and the community at large to help respond to the shelter question once and for all.

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com

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