Edmonton appears ready to lift social housing moratorium in core communities

Edmonton city councillors may lift a seven-year-old moratorium on new affordable housing projects in five core neighbourhoods as early as next week. 

Council’s executive committee heard from more than a dozen people at a meeting Monday, and the majority support lifting the pause put in place in Alberta Avenue, Central McDougall, Eastwood, McCauley and Queen Mary Park.

Mayor Don Iveson said when the moratorium was put in place in 2012, councillors believed affordable housing led to social disorder and crime. 

“Now we see that that’s not the case,” Iveson told media after the meeting. “Good affordable housing is actually part of the solution to poverty, part of the solution to social disorder.” 

“I believe we’ve reset the conversation.” 

(City of Edmonton)

An analysis of non-market housing in relation to crime and social disorder shows affordable housing properties in these neighbourhoods were accounted for a small percentage of the total number of police calls.

Of 20,651 police calls to Queen Mary Park, 0.3 per cent came from non-market housing. 

The community of Eastwood had the highest percentage among the five, with 12.5 per cent of police calls to that neighbourhood related to non-market housing. 

Insp. Dan Jones with Edmonton police encouraged the committee to remove the moratorium. 

“Affordable housing is a hugely positive thing in communities for us,” he said.

Jones said homeless counts show people living on the streets across the city, so he supports permanent and supportive housing in all neighbourhoods.  

He suggested the city start considering affordable housing a “social solution to social problems, rather than making a justice solution to social problems.” 

Mayor Don Iveson supports lifting the moratorium on affordable housing that council put on five neighbourhoods in 2012. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

16 per cent city-wide

Lifting the pause would align with the city’s new policy that each neighbourhood in the city consist of 16 per cent affordable housing. 

in 2018, Central McDougall and Eastwood were among some 20 communities within that threshold. 

In McCauley, 25 to 30 per cent of housing is deemed affordable units.

Christel Kjenner, the city’s director of housing and homelessness, spoke in favour of lifting the moratorium.

“With the pause in place, to be honest, our team doesn’t engage at all in terms of possibilities in those neighbourhoods because we’ve been instructed not to invest in affordable housing there.” 

The report also notes community league members expressed the need for a more equal distribution of affordable housing across the city.

Michael Brown with the McCauley community league said the moratorium was a good break for communities that were being overwhelmed by lower-cost housing. 

“When it is over-concentrated, it becomes a crime magnet,” Brown said. “It becomes an easy target for people who prey on the vulnerable.” 

However, he supports more affordable housing projects in core neighbourhoods if the city monitors them better to avoid “market failures,” where problem landlords take advantage of vulnerable people.  

“It needs some oversight, it can’t just be a free-for-all.” 

Michael Brown with the McCauley community league supports the move to provide affordable housing across the city. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The report noted that there is a marked difference in perspective between community league representatives and the communities at large. 

Jones said there’s still a lot of work to do to change people’s attitudes and language. 

“Stigma gets in the way of compassionate public policy, and we have to change the way we talk.” 

Kjenner told the committee that some people still think of gangs and violence, when they hear the terms public or affordable housing.

“Like Cabrini Green in Chicago,” she said, citing a former housing complex once notorious for its gang activity. 

“Those projects don’t exist anymore,” Kjenner said. “That’s not the way affordable housing’s been done. But unfortunately the stigma persists, and so we definitely have an uphill battle.”

City council is expected to vote on lifting the moratorium at a meeting June 18.


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