Edmonton seeks $387M from Ottawa for affordable, supportive housing

Edmonton is asking the federal government for $387 million to address immediate and longer-term housing needs, Mayor Don Iveson outlines in a letter to the federal minister of families, children and social development.

Iveson sent the request to Ahmed Hussen late Monday after the minister announced $1 billion in federal funding through the Rapid Housing Initiative for projects across the country. 

“The City of Edmonton is faced with a crisis in homelessness and increasing social disorder that has escalated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global oil price crash that has especially affected Alberta,” Iveson wrote. 

About 1,900 people in Edmonton have precarious or no housing, Iveson said in the letter, adding that 600 are “most vulnerable and in urgent need of immediate housing.”

At city hall Tuesday, Iveson said he was in a phone meeting with the minister earlier in the day, during which Hussen confirmed that municipalities will get the funding directly. 

“They’re not going to take a detour through provinces; they’re going to come directly to cities and housing providers working together,” Iveson said.  

In an email to CBC News, ministry spokesperson Jessica Eritou confirmed that Hussen spoke to Iveson and other mayors during a meeting with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. 

“This money will move out quickly to address the areas of greatest need to serve diverse communities across the country,” Eritou wrote. “We will continue to work with all levels of government to ensure every Canadian has access to safe housing.”

Iveson noted that the combined billion dollars is a significant step. 

“They’re moving mountains to try to meet our level of ambition, which is encouraging,” Iveson told reporters.

The city is looking to Ottawa for $129 million to help buy and convert 600 existing hotel rooms to temporary and eventually permanent supportive housing. 

Another $58 million would go toward building 254 units of new permanent supportive housing on city-owned sites.

The mayor is asking for another $200 million for 2,000 units of non-market affordable housing over the next three years. 

“These funds will allow the city to rapidly buy potentially some hotels or apartment buildings in the next weeks or months,” Iveson told reporters.

In his letter to Hussen, Iveson said the city has housed nearly 900 people since March but still estimates 180 new people are becoming homeless each month.

He noted that the provincial ban on rental evictions expired on Aug. 14 and an estimated 55,000 households that can’t or won’t pay rent are at risk of getting eviction notices in the coming weeks. 

The mayor said he wants to make sure the city can take advantage of a surplus of space in hotels, motels and apartment buildings due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The city has been working with Homeward Trust and housing providers, which have been gathering robust data on the housing situation.

Iveson said cities around Canada have an urgent need for housing support. He told reporters Tuesday he expects there to be “a scramble” for the federal funds.

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