The view of Canmore from Ha Ling peak. File Photo/Rocky Mountain Outlook

Funding increases for affordable housing and tourism in the 2024 provincial budget are a “drop in the bucket” and “hugely concerning” for what’s needed to support the Bow Valley, says Banff-Kananaskis NDP MLA Sarah Elmeligi.

Elmeligi said the budget isn’t paced for Alberta being the fastest growing province in Canada, and while government-driven campaigns to attract new residents have been successful, the budget fails to adequately address housing needs for those living here.

“They are talking about building more affordable housing units, but definitely not enough considering that the whole province is in a housing crisis right now,” she said.

“I would have expected at least for us to be increasing funding to population growth, but we’re not.”

Elmeligi said this is a formula for creating deficits across the system, to infrastructure, healthcare, education and other core services.

The province’s 10-year strategy to increase affordable housing supply and support is receiving $717 million in capital grants and its Affordable Housing Partnership Program, which brings together non-profits, private companies and government to build affordable housing, includes a $405 million boost.

Canmore Community Housing (CCH) executive director Michelle Ouellette said the organization will be applying for the Affordable Housing Partnership Program when it opens for applications again in April. CCH was unsuccessful in its application in the fall because the program was oversubscribed; however, Ouellette said they’re confident this next application will be successful. 

“We often achieve 30-40 per cent below market rent, but really, the program will help us provide, in our new rental project in Palliser, more units that are actually at the 60 per cent below median market rent,” said Ouellette.

The Palliser Trail project could add more than 1,000 affordable housing units and CCH will also be looking at funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Municipal Fund program to target net zero development, along with affordability. CCH is also looking at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which offers a grant for new construction of affordable housing, offering a combination of low interest and forgivable loans.

“All of this would allow us to play with that rent rate target … So there would be a mix and range of rent targets in the project, overall, depending on the grants we do receive,” Ouellette said.

CCH, as of February, reported 259 people on a waitlist for its below- market housing ownership program and 219 people on a waitlist for its rental program.

“Obviously, the need is great. Rents are not going down, the cost of housing is not going down, and we see people coming into the office all the time who are in a situation where they would love to be a part of our program,” said CCH board chair Rob Murray. “We’re on track to meet that need, maybe not tomorrow, but we have a lot of different projects in the ground … This is stuff that’s going to take years to happen, unfortunately, for the people who have need now, but we’re definitely working to address that need as fast as we possibly can.”

The provincial budget’s capital plan also includes $254 million in new funding to build about 3,300 new affordable housing units and complete 1,800 units already in development.

The province’s rental subsidy program will also include funding for another 550 households, as per the budget, but that increase barely scratches the surface, argued Elmeligi.

“None of those spending increases are at the same pace as population growth, so that’s basically a cut. If you’re not funding to at least population growth, then you’re cutting the services available for individual Albertans.”

Alberta Municipalities, in its analysis of the budget, notes there were nearly 162,000 households in Alberta in 2021 in core housing need, according to Statistics Canada.

The province provides support for 58,600 households through affordable housing, rental supplements and other programs, however, this assistance addresses only 36 per cent of households experiencing core housing needs.

“While Budget 2024 proposes expanding assistance to an additional 5,650 households over the next three years, this would still leave over 60 per cent of households in core housing need without any support,” Alberta Municipalities stated in its analysis.

The 2019 Bow Valley region housing needs assessment projected that by 2027, valley communities would require roughly 1,100 additional units of non-market housing. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, housing demand has surged.

The Town of Banff alone is reporting a housing shortage of between 700-1,000 units. Last month, the Town was successful in its application to the Housing Accelerator Fund and receive $4.6 million over the next three years to help deal with the community’s housing crunch.

On tourism, the budget is dedicating an additional $7.6 million to Travel Alberta, but Elmeligi said that money doesn’t stretch far when considering it’s supporting the scope of the province’s tourism strategy to expand revenue to $25 billion by 2035.

“One of the big questions I’ll have for the [Tourism and Sport] Minister Joseph Schow is how does he see that $8 million translating to this target of doubling tourism spending by 2035, which isn’t very far away,” she said.

“I’m interested to hear how the minister actually projects that and if that target is based on any kind of data or just based on ‘that sounds like a good goal’ … and if this $8 million increase can tie to some kind of evidence-based decision-making in this regard.”

In a letter to the editor published in the Outlook last week, Elmeligi criticized the tourism strategy for failing to address housing to support sector growth.

She pointed out there still isn’t a specific funding stream or plan to support tourism-based economies, despite evidence that Canmore, Banff and Jasper are major contributors to provincial GDP, and experience increasing demand on infrastructure from visitors.

In 2022, the three mountain towns together contributed $2.3 billion to the province.

“That means tourism-based communities like Canmore, Banff, Jasper, Sylvan Lake and Drumheller will still be applying to the same municipal funding grants as all of the other municipalities in the province,” said Elmeligi.

“What we do know is that we have to compete with every other community in the province for the same dollars and there’s a finite number of dollars.”

The MLA said she has several other questions and concerns with the budget, including on wildfire and drought funding and response.

She asked how the use of natural infrastructure might be used to mitigate the impacts of these disasters.

“We’re not talking about enhancing or expanding wetlands in relation to drought response and we’re not talking about prescribed burns in response to wildfire preparedness. But ecosystems can do a significant amount of work for us if we enable them to do that, and that is just a blanket theme missing from this whole budget for sure.”

Elmeligi said she’ll also be asking for more information on how funding is being used to progress widening the long-discussed Highway 1A, which received $3 million last year, and is receiving $1 million this year.

“Where did that $3 million go? Where’s the $1 million going to go? How come we’re not advancing this project of twinning the 1A,” she said.

“There’s a lot of people in our constituency that are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of movement on a thing that has been committed to multiple times, over multiple years.”

Elmeligi said she’ll be asking all of this and more on behalf of constituents in budget debate during the spring sitting of the Alberta legislature, which officially reconvened Feb. 28.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 11, 2024 at 17:11

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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