Edmonton is one of Canada’s fastest growing cities, growing by 21% or 135,000 over the past decade. With that growth, Edmonton has become more culturally and ethnically diverse than at any point in its history with over 50 international cultures and 70 unique ethnic groups.
As the number of people who call Edmonton home continues to increase and diversify, so too do the housing needs – including the need for affordable housing. The City must consider the needs of all its residents, and a vibrant civic community provides a home for all Edmontonians.
What is affordable housing?
Broadly speaking, affordable housing is rental or ownership housing that requires government money, in large or small part, to build and/or operate. Affordable housing has rents or payments below average market cost, and is targeted to people from a variety of demographic groups and occupations who make below the median household income and cannot afford market prices.
In 2014, the average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Edmonton was just over $1,000. This is unaffordable for people in a range of occupations earning the average salary, including restaurant servers, retail clerks and hair stylists.
Best practices for future City-initiated Affordable Housing projects will involve multi-unit housing including apartment units, row housing, triplexes and duplexes (no single-detached homes) with some proportion of regular market-priced Housing mixed into the project. In such mixed-income developments, affordable housing units will be visually indistinguishable from Market Housing units.
Why does affordable housing matter?
Safe, adequate and affordable housing is fundamental to the physical, economic and social well-being of individuals, families and communities. Access to safe and affordable housing is required for a stable and independent life, including finding and retaining employment and connecting with wider communities of interest. It has also been identified as a key pathway out of poverty.
While the private market is effective at providing housing for approximately 80% of Edmontonians, roughly 20% of households do not have their needs met by private rental or ownership housing. This translates into a significant number of households who are experiencing housing affordability issues.
When low-income households are forced to pay much or most of their income on housing expenses it is a major source of stress and anxiety. Having less money for other basic necessities and recreation activities means these households are less engaged in their communities and are unable to plan for the future.
Beyond the major benefits to the people who require affordable housing, these housing projects also provide direct and indirect benefits to the local community and economy. A city where you find affordable housing in all parts of the city is healthier, safer, and more engaged overall.
Having affordable housing choices in your neighbourhood contributes to the stability, livability and resilience of your community. It enables lower-income households to have options to live where they choose without being forced to move away from family and friends to other neighbourhoods when lifecycle or health needs make that necessary. It also provides options for children who are leaving home but want to stay in the neighbourhood or seniors who are looking to downsize but do not want to move away from their community.
Diversity of housing types, including affordable housing, also brings new residents to neighbourhoods, increasing the sustainability of schools, businesses, and community organizations. Households who benefit from affordable housing also have more disposable income to support their local retailers and engage with community organizations.
Further, the construction and management of such housing supports employment opportunities in the sector and stimulates related industries. Affordable housing supports a healthy labour market by attracting new workers to the city and is crucial to enable long-term financial stability for low-income households.
Providing affordable housing now to those who need it is also an investment that costs taxpayers far less than supporting vulnerable populations in shelters and through emergency services and policing. For every person we help find a safe home, taxpayers avoid $65,000 in costs per person each year.
How is the City helping advance affordable housing in Edmonton?
The City’s involvement in advancing the need for affordable housing in Edmonton is guided by the Affordable Housing Strategy.
The strategy establishes four key goals: increase the supply of affordable housing in all areas of the city; maintain the supply of affordable and market rental housing; enable stable residential tenancies and transition people out of homelessness; and anticipate, recognize and coordinate action to respond to housing and homeless needs Achieving these goals will require collaboration with other orders of government, as well as a wide-range of other community and industry partners.
While the City of Edmonton is committed to delivering programs to meet the affordable housing needs of Edmontonians, the funding required to build and operate affordable housing is largely provided by other orders of government. The City’s contribution to affordable housing is intended to generate greater levels of funding from other orders of government.
Since 2011, the City’s annual budget contribution to affordable housing has totaled approximately $6 million. This $6 million budget has funded the City’s various housing programs, which have generated approximately $56.3 million in investment and 493 units. Some of these programs include: repurposing of City-owned surplus school building sites for affordable and seniors housing; grant funding to build new or upgrade existing secondary suites; partnering with developers to creates affordable rental accommodation in new condominium development; and providing funding to eligible affordable housing projects to rebate municipal fees and charges related to the development.
The City also continues to advocate for additional funding from other orders of government for future affordable housing programs. General commitments have been made in recent Federal and Provincial budget announcements regarding funding for new affordable, but specific details regarding funding allocations have not yet been released.
To find out more about affordable housing in Edmonton and how you can help further the conversation, visit affordablehousingedmonton.ca.
Transforming Edmonton will be featuring a series of blogs over the month of November to raise awareness of Housing Month. Next week you will meet Dexter, a certified counsellor, who unexpectedly ended up on the streets of Edmonton. Learn about where he is today.