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Council must do the right thing on affordable housing

Saturday’s, March 2, 2019 Gazette article, “No deal for St. Albert Housing Society” is troubling and disappointing.

The article, “No deal for St. Albert Housing Society,” (St. Albert Gazette, March 2), is troubling and disappointing.

It has been two years and eight months that the Housing Society board of volunteers have been working with council and administration in crafting a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to define their roles and responsibilities. The goal of both parties is to expand St. Albert affordable housing options and generate support for affordable housing planning and delivery. Both parties acknowledge that implementation takes collaboration.

The motion to develop a MOA was passed by council in June 2016, which was unresolved leaving it to this council to bring the MOA to an agreeable conclusion.

Numerous drafts, presentations and conversations occurred in an effort to address the wants of both parties; however a lack of understanding prevailed.

Following the 2017 election, the mayor suggested council and the Society’s board have a “dinner” meeting. The board believed this to be a good idea as it allowed council and the Society the opportunity to communicate their concerns, ideas and objectives as well as asking questions that improved understanding of each party’s position. The Society asked several times to meet with council as a joint meeting would expedite the MOA process. Each request was refused so the MOA process continued.

Council asked administration during this process to update the Outside Agencies Funding Policy which was approved in the second quarter of 2018. This policy reduced grant funding for not for profit groups like CIVC and Housing Society (this was a 42 per cent 2019 funding reduction from 2018 for the Society). You may ask, if the policy was revised then why was a MOA necessary? A valid question!

The Society made a presentation at the October 2018 Governance, Priorities Finance Committee identifying several amendments to the MOA, however the Committee passed a motion to have administration research other municipalities to identify best practices models that could be replicated versus having a MOA. This was another delay with the outcome – “no one size fits all” model. This Committee in December passed two motions. The Society signs the MOA by Feb. 28 otherwise all work on the MOA ceases. And, by Q3, 2019, administration to recommend governance and partnership models supporting delivery of non-market and accessible housing options. This motion duplicates the work requested at the October meeting.

Meetings scheduled for Feb. 5 and 11, 2019, to discuss the Society’s proposed amendments were cancelled by the city and rescheduled for Feb. 21. Two board members attended the Feb. 21 meeting where they received the latest version of the MOA which did not reflect Society’s amendments. They were unable to comment as copies of the MOA had not been made available prior to the meeting.

Given the ultimatum to sign the MOA by Feb. 28, the board met Feb. 26 and in the interests of collaboration and to serve the best interests of the community, the board agreed to: a 50 per cent compromise on the use of net operating rental income from the Big Lake Pointe affordable units versus using 100 per cent of this revenue to purchase additional units; remove the investment reserve funds cap, a three-year rather than five-year term and complete a one-time efficiency review. A letter was forwarded Feb. 28, meeting the imposed deadline.

The CAO’s response stated the amendments would not be considered as the direction from council was to sign the MOA per council’s motion passed at the December Committee meeting. Therefore, council has not had the opportunity to consider the Feb. 28 compromised amendments.

The Society asks council to demonstrate leadership, fairness and review the latest MOA proposal as it is council that makes final decisions. Each member of council needs to put themselves in the position of those looking for a “hand up” and who the Housing Society help. It is time for council to listen, do the right thing and support affordable housing with adequate funding so the Society can do their job. The March 2 Gazette reported a city surplus, so does this entire surplus have to be transferred to reserves?

Malcolm Parker, Director, St. Albert Housing Society