Edmonton non-profit faces closure after province ends no-cost lease

An Edmonton non-profit organization says it is facing closure after the Alberta government ended a long-standing agreement to help it stay in its downtown location.

Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society (EERSS) has operated for 34 years in a surplus government building known as Warehouse #3 at 10255 104th Street.

The province leased the building to the society for $1 a year. It also provided maintenance and upkeep for free, at a cost of about $90,000 annually.

Treasurer Shane Harnish said the problems started last spring when the boiler broke down. Instead of repairing or replacing the boiler, Alberta Infrastructure informed the group on Aug. 23 that the lease would not be renewed and the organization must vacate the premises by the end of September.

The organization now trying to find a new home on short notice without having much money on hand. 

“We will be trying to secure a new space,” Harnish said. “We’re really scrambling for a new home.” 

Since receiving the letter last week, EERSS learned the Alberta government issued an request for expression of interest last year seeking private companies to develop four of it surplus properties, including the former site of the Royal Alberta Museum.

Warehouse #3 was also on the list. 

‘No longer feasible’

This isn’t the first time the society has faced a threat of losing its home. In 2016, the organization faced eviction at the end of its lease. The former NDP government said they could stay until the until the building was sold. 

Harnish said they ended up with an agreement to buy the building through a developer that would in turn find EERSS a space to operate. But that agreement appeared to have died after the NDP was voted out of government two years ago, he said. 

Hadyn Place, press secretary for Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda, said a sale agreement was never finalized between the province and the society.

He said the lease went to month-to-month terms six years ago, with the understanding that the society would have to move if any there were any major issues with the building.

“In recent years, it became clear that this building was no longer feasible to maintain,” Place said in a email to CBC News. 

“Government is managing the province’s buildings and facilities in a cost-effective way to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars. Keeping Warehouse #3 would require Albertans to pay more than $90,000 annually for operations and the building requires another $2 million in maintenance.”

EERSS staff are now in the process of closing down the thrift shop it operates on the site. The group is now trying to raise funds to move to a new location in the central part of the city.

Harnish said the move could be the end of the Edmonton Emergency Relief Services 

“That’s why we’re making the appeal now to hopefully find some more funding or support, because if we can’t, we may have to shut the organization down for good,” he said. 

EERSS provides emergency supplies to people affected by fire or disaster, newcomers to Canada and people who are unhoused. 

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