The provincial and federal governments announced $66 million toward 11 affordable housing projects across Alberta on March 22.
Out of this amount, the Jasper Connaught Affordable Housing Project will be receiving $6.5 million.
The Municipality of Jasper applied for funding for the 40-unit project earlier this year.
Jeremy Nixon, minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services, said that his ministry is working toward having a more holistic approach to the struggles that many people are facing. A large part of his portfolio, he explained, has been about investing in intervention resources to help people who are in the middle of experiencing crisis, not afterward.
“But we also need to ask the question, ‘What do we do after the crisis?’ I think that’s what we’re here today to talk about. I’ve been touring the province meeting with women’s shelters, with homeless shelter providers, with treatment services and so many others in our community. The big thing that constantly that continues to come up is we need more affordable housing,” he said.
“We need to make sure that when you’re at the end of that crisis, that there’s a place to go to call home.”
The funding came from Alberta’s Affordable Housing Partnership Program through the Canada-Alberta Bilateral Agreement under the $72-plus billion federal National Housing Strategy. The 10-year agreement signed in 2019 details a $678 million investment – backed equally by both the federal and provincial governments – to protect, renew and expand social and community housing in Alberta.
In July 2021, another jointly-backed $444-million combined investment was announced through the Canada-Alberta Housing Benefit.
Stronger Foundations, the province’s 10-year strategy to improve and expand affordable housing, includes public, private and non-profit organizations to increase housing supply in areas facing the most critical needs.
Jasper was one of only two municipalities outside of Edmonton and Calgary that received funding as part of this announcement, the other being Wetaskiwin.
Mayor Richard Ireland was quick to express his enthusiasm about the funding.
“It’s excellent news… really exciting,” he said.
“We had already budgeted $5 million in our 2023 budget for a contribution toward this project if the other money came through. We knew that we didn’t have enough to fund it ourselves. We were, of course, hopeful that we would get access to something like this funding that was announced yesterday, so we’re prepared for that.”
Jasper has long been considered a community with a housing shortage. Anyone will tell you that it’s easy to find work here; finding a place to live is the real chore.
The Jasper Community Housing Corporation has been working to establish the Jasper Connaught Affordable Housing Project for a few years. The low-rise 40-unit apartment building was first proposed with a $12 million price tag. It is set to be located immediately south of the Petro Canada and Bright Spot Restaurant.
Ireland said that original price tag will have to be adjusted to reflect anticipated costs based on a current projection. The municipality has also been looking at a co-investment model with other commercial private enterprises to cover the rest of the bill.
It remains yet to be determined whether the Jasper Connaught Affordable Housing Project will include rent controls. As it stands, only MPL Place has rent control accommodations in Jasper.
Regardless, the mayor said this funding will go a long way toward solving Jasper’s housing crunch.
“It is indeed a perennial problem. There’s been lots of significant steps over the years, and this is one more. I can’t say that it solves the problem. It’s always dangerous to suggest that the issue is resolved, but this is a really significant step forward.”
Utilities were installed in 2021 for both this project and for the neighbouring 144-unit apartment complex at 801/821 Connaught Drive. That complex has seen site preparation since early January 2023.
NDP Housing Critic Lori Sigurdson said that any assistance that the provincial government offers at this point is simply “not enough.”
“It’s too little too late, really. Here we are at the very end of the UCP mandate. There’s an election imminently upon us, and now they’re investing. During the pandemic, when people were in dire financial straits, what was the UCP doing? Nothing.”
The UCP has also made cuts to the rent supplement program, she added. Rent supplements preclude the need for building new affordable housing, because it offers tenants the funding to continue to rent where they are in already-existing buildings. This is especially vital to helping people in rural Alberta communities including Jasper.
That was the first program the UCP cut, Sigurdson said, adding that the UCP also dragged its feet during the pandemic when many provinces were signing agreements with the Canadian government to get federal financial aid. That was when people were facing the worst of their struggles.
“Albertans deserve safe and affordable housing, and certainly the UCP didn’t deliver on that. They didn’t do it really till the tail end of the pandemic, and that program was closed when people needed it most. We really can’t trust the UCP to provide affordable housing and this recent investment isn’t enough.”
She noted that the UCP investment is approximately half of the $1.2 billion that the NDP invested in affordable housing during its government from 2015 to 2019. That was the largest such investment in the history of the province, she continued, and the NDP is committed to doing even more if it wins the next provincial election set for May 29.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Mar 28, 2023