Jason Nixon, Alberta’s Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services was in Slave Lake on July 26. He met with town council, the housing authority board and with the Slave Lake Homeless Coalition.
At the top of the discussion agenda for two of those three groups was the apparently stalled affordable housing project at the Northern Star Hotel.
SL Regional Housing is particularly interested in the situation. It had been planning one of its own affordable housing projects and – judging by the comments from municipal councillors who sit on the board – was less than pleased when the Kenney government shifted the grant funding to a private company.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The new owners of the hotel had a lot of under-used space and figured with the $4.5 million the government had set aside for affordable housing in Slave Lake, they could make it work. And the government was all in favour of the public-private partnership idea as a way of reducing government expense.
But, as noted, the project doesn’t seem to be going anywhere lately, and nobody seems to know exactly what is going on. The councillors and others who met with minister Nixon last week hoped he would have some answers. He did, sort of.
“All he could tell us is the project is under review right now,” says housing authority executive director Lindsay Pratt.
Town councillor Julie Brandle says that’s more or less what Nixon told town council as well.
“We got put off until the fall,” she says. “Apparently they (the government) are working with the (hotel group), on whatever the issue is.”
According to Nixon’s senior press secretary, Chinenye Anokwuru “the department is working with the grant recipient (the hotel’s owners, in other words) to address delays with the project.” She added in an email to The Leader that there has been “a partial conversion of 68 hotel rooms into 32 affordable housing units and two new four-plexes.”
The Leader reached out to the ownership group of the hotel recently, hoping to find out what that issue is, but had not received a response by press time.
On homelessness, Pratt says again there were no commitments, but Nixon seemed knowledgeable on the topic and interested in it. Pratt calls it “a very good meeting,” and makes a point of thanking Lesser Slave MLA Scott Sinclair for setting it up.
Town council let the minister know about issues it has with the location of the Children’s Resource Council (CRC). Also discussed were grants for dealing with the homeless. On the former, Brandle says they told Nixon they don’t think the ‘hub-and-spokes’ model for service delivery by the CRC is working very well for Slave Lake. High Prairie is the ‘hub’ and Slave Lake one of the spokes.
“We don’t get enough resources for the population,” Brandle says, and Nixon heard this loud and clear.
Council learned grants are available due to the perceived impact of wildfires on homelessness, and the town will be applying. The goal is to get a shelter funded for year-round operation, rather than just in the colder months.
Lastly, Brandle says they talked about the government’s plan for addiction treatment centres. Specifically the idea that one might be located in Slave Lake, although the minister made no commitments on that.
by Joe McWilliams