The end of February brought with it the end of an agreement between the city and the St. Albert Housing Society. After years of meetings and discussions, negotiations finally broke down between the two groups.
It is sad to see the time and effort both sides poured into developing a memorandum go to waste, and sadder still to consider the effects this could have on a society that has been fighting for its funding for more than a year – and on a city that has a documented dearth of affordable and low-income housing.
The society has been adamant for months it is not ready to sign the memorandum as it is written, and the city's lack of ability to budge on the memorandum's various conditions is disappointing.
The memorandum in question was meant to outline how the housing society would be funded and how its money is spent. Negotiations began in September 2016 at the direction of the council of the day.
The issue is a complex one. The city has been supporting the society for years through operating grants. It purchased the land for Big Lake Pointe, an affordable housing complex in the west end, and gave the housing society mortgage-free ownership of 15 units at 12 Nevada Place.
The memorandum started after councillors took issue with the society purchasing additional units while still requiring an annual operating grant from the city, and some councillors felt if the society had the money for more units, it should instead be working toward self-sufficiency.
That line of thinking has persisted to today, where the society is now having to manage with a 42-per-cent cut to its operating grant.
The question often arises as to who is ultimately responsible for addressing housing needs: is it the city's mandate to provide affordable housing, or is that a provincial or federal duty?
Those who are directly impacted by funding cuts to the society are no doubt asking a different question: does it matter?
These are people, some of whom struggle day to day and some of whom turned to the housing society when they had nowhere else to go. Some are on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped). Most are single-parent families, or families with children under school age.
Ultimately, a society can be measured by how it helps its most needful. St. Albert's current council knows many residents face housing pressures in this city. In August, Mayor Cathy Heron said affordable housing was "a huge mandate" for this council. When she was first elected, she pledged to put an end to homelessness.
If city council wants to be seen to be seriously invested on the issue of affordable housing, then it needs to seriously invest in solutions. After all, the city has posted a $1.7-million surplus this year, which it is planning to put into reserves. Perhaps some of that money could be better used to help St. Albertans who are experiencing a housing crisis.
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.