Alberta budget: Edmonton mayor ‘confounded and disappointed’ with province on supportive housing

Don Iveson doesn’t understand why the province won’t work with Edmonton on supportive housing initiatives.

“We see this issue of homelessness quite differently, to my consternation,” the mayor said after the Alberta budget was tabled.

Read more: Alberta budget 2021 promises more help for COVID-19 with $18B deficit

“But we’ll continue to work to try to persuade the government of Alberta that it’s in their fiscal interest to break the cycle of homelessness for more people.

“It’s an issue of fairness that’s really not appropriate to leave to the taxpayers of Edmonton.”

Read more: Alberta budget 2021: What’s in it for Edmonton?

“I do think it is a failure on their part to take advantage of the evidence-based best practice with respect to providing housing,” Iveson said.

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“The stubbornness around this I just don’t understand.”

Iveson said he was meeting with Alberta ministers later Thursday and would share his disappointment with Premier Jason Kenney when he next spoke with him.

Click to play video 'Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson' Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson

Social services as part of supportive housing cheaper in the long run: Iveson – Sep 10, 2020

“For a budget focused on health, recovery and finding savings, I am confounded and disappointed the province is still not prepared to work with Edmonton on supportive housing,” the mayor said in a statement.

Read more: Highlights from Alberta budget 2021

“Supportive housing not only ensures individuals with complex needs get off the street and into a safe home.

“We have evidence that housing reduces costs to health, justice and law enforcement budgets — right when the province needs to find these efficiencies the most.”

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Click to play video 'UCP government pushing for economic recovery with 2021 budget' UCP government pushing for economic recovery with 2021 budget

UCP government pushing for economic recovery with 2021 budget

Alberta’s 2021 budget sets aside $209 million for housing as well as family and social supports. The government expects to spend just over half, about $110 million, in 2021-22.

While more details will hopefully be forthcoming, the government has promised new funding for 500 shelter spaces in Edmonton and Red Deer.

“More shelters are not the solution,” Iveson said, “and will not get the health-care cost savings associated with proper housing.

“The government of Alberta’s failure to work with Edmonton on supportive housing for vulnerable people, a failure to follow evidence showing the substantial savings in areas of provincial jurisdiction like healthcare, is truly frustrating for the people experiencing homelessness during a pandemic.”

Read more: Federal government commits $1B for cities to buy motels, hotels for rapid-housing program

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The mayor said Edmonton was asking the province for $5.9 million in 2021 to operate the supportive housing units that the city and federal government are already building using funds from the Rapid Housing Initiative.

Click to play video '80 supportive housing units to be built in 2 Edmonton neighbourhoods by end of 2021' 80 supportive housing units to be built in 2 Edmonton neighbourhoods by end of 2021

80 supportive housing units to be built in 2 Edmonton neighbourhoods by end of 2021 – Dec 15, 2020

That $5.9 million, Iveson said, would “more than pay for itself in reduced interactions with the criminal justice and health care systems” and would save the province millions more.

Read more: Edmonton mayor asks province for $17M in annual funding for supportive housing services

In terms of other aspects of the budget, Iveson said the province has confirmed support for the 50th Street rail crossing, the West Valley Line and maintained earmarked money for the South Capital Line LRT extension.

“I appreciate the continued recognition that these projects are important city-building initiatives that will generate significant economic benefits for our city and Alberta while also ensuring we’re working towards Edmontonians’ economic recovery, climate goals, health and quality of life.”

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Click to play video 'Councillor Michael Walters looks ahead to the municipal election and the provincial budget' Councillor Michael Walters looks ahead to the municipal election and the provincial budget

Councillor Michael Walters looks ahead to the municipal election and the provincial budget

However, the mayor is very concerned about a 25 per cent cut over three years to the Municipal Sustainability Fund.

The budget shows MSI will receive $1.2 billion in 2021-22 before seeing that figure drop to $485 million in 2022-23 and 2023-24. The MSI funding is frontloaded in the three-year plan in order to help cities with the COVID-19 economic recovery and to prepare for the phasing out of MSI, which will be replaced with a new program in 2024-25.

Iveson said the MSI cuts will erode any COVID-19 stimulus the city received. MSI covers a lot of infrastructure projects that “supports job creation” and ensure Edmonton is “building and maintaining the infrastructure that is essential to recovery and a thriving economy.”

Read more: Alberta NDP voices concern over municipal funding

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City staff are currently looking into what projects might be at risk.

“This leaves municipalities with really difficult decisions to make when we’ve already absorbed considerable cuts to our infrastructure transfers in previous years to help deal with the fiscal challenges Alberta was facing,” Iveson said.

It will mean fewer jobs, he stressed.

“There will be a pro-cyclical — which is not a good thing in economic terms — negative impact on jobs in 2022 and 2023 of these cuts and those are permanent and ongoing cuts in the fiscal framework that follows and that will have an impact on jobs.

“I think this is a short-sighted move.”

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