News Articles - ESPC Referenced or Cited
Global Morning News Edmonton - July 31 2013
"A proposed transitional housing development in Terwillegar Towne has stirred controversy. John Kolkman, with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, has looked into the project and is here to talk about it.
Watch the video here.
by: Patricia Kozicka
EDMONTON - The debate surrounding a controversial supportive housing proposal for Terwillegar Towne has been heating up, but the issue is not a foreign one to a number of other Edmonton communities.
Homeward Trust, the organization helping back the development in Terwillegar Towne, has already completed 59 similar projects in Edmonton as part of its mission to help end homelessness.
One of them is Edward Street, located on 124th Street and 116 Avenue. The three-storey building is described as a secure building that houses mentally ill people in need.
Unlike the 60 units proposed for the Terwillegar Towne facility, the Edward Street building only has 27 units. It is also more centrally located, with easy access to transit as well as other services and amenities. Residential communities are just a half block away, though. There's also a park nearby, and the more affluent community of Westmount is located a little further south.
One resident, who has two young children, is not concerned about living a few blocks away from the Edward Street Building.
"It's all safe, they're all supervised. They're in housing. They have to have a place to go, a safe place," he says.
There's no denying that no two projects are exactly the same. Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust admits that the Terwillegar Towne project is not only one of the larger ones they've funded, but is also located further from downtown than any other previous application. Still, it does have its supporters.
"I think that people simply don't understand that new, affordable housing projects like the one proposed for Terwillegar can in fact be good neighbours," says John Kolkman with the Edmonton Social Planning Council. "And really these developers are about finding permanent homes for people so they can make a positive contribution to society."
Not everyone, however, is willing to have a supportive housing facility in their backyard.
"We moved here and now it seems like they're bringing all those people from downtown area to southwest where we just came out from," Gloria Zelli said Monday evening after a meeting about the project. "They're shadowing us here. And we really don't need that, we don't want it."
"There's a lot of units that are for sale where we are now, and now we're just starting to find out why. And so we're probably going to sell as well," added Abby Carrothers. "I'm not going to stay at a building that's going to put my four-year-old at risk."
Many of the roughly 500 attendees at Monday's meeting voiced their concerns about what they feel has been a lack of consultation on the project. The fact that the developer, Murray Soroka of Jasper Place Health and Wellness, was also not there to answer residents' questions did not help the situation.
Soroka told Global News on Tuesday that he was originally told the meeting was for community members only; and by the time he received an invite late last week, he had already left for holidays.
On the matter of who the tenants will be - which many residents expressed concern about - he says applicants will range from men and women to single mothers and families.
"These are people, let's be clear. These are individuals who need a second chance into rebuilding their lives. They're not dangerous people, they're notâ€¦rapists or murderers. These are people that need an opportunity to get their lives back on track... plus there'll be support in the building, as well as external support from the Housing First program."
He also rejects the claims of some residents who believe the project will go ahead, no matter what.
"The funding is conditional," he explains. "And we haven't met the condition yet from both of our funders, and part of the conditional funding is to have these open meetings and to discuss with the public. So, this is nowhere near being a done deal."
There are two upcoming meetings scheduled to be held at the Holy Trinity Church: August 8 and 15 (5 to 8 p.m.). A community information session is also scheduled for August 22 (7 p.m.).
With files from Vinesh Pratap and Quinn Ohler, Global News
by: Global News Staff
EDMONTON - As we head into the summer months, cities, towns, and dozens of non-profit organizations will be feeling the impact of government cuts to a small but significant program: the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP), which was eliminated in March.
The Edmonton Social Planning Council recently helped conduct a survey about the loss of STEP. Of the 27 municipal governments, and 207 non-profits across Alberta that responded, 56 per cent of respondents indicated they will not be able to maintain programs and services. Furthermore, 49 per cent said they will hire fewer students, and 36 per cent will not hire any students at all this year.
"Over 89,000 people within Alberta - families and children - impacted, per year; and you know over 500 students hired, again, per year. And again, you know, this is just a very small sample. I think it's much bigger than what we've been able to sort of portray in the sample that we've done," said the Council's Susan Morrissey.
The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues was one group which relied on STEP, and it wasn't just all about Green Shack drop-in programs.
"Many leagues, including our organization," said the league's Allan Bolstad, "was planning to hire a student this summer if we got a STEP grant to do some research work on our anniversary project; and leagues are writing history booksâ€¦so I think quite a number of projects are going by the wayside because of it."
"(STEP) has really built up over the years to be a way for a lot of no- profit groups, in partnership with the provincial government to be able to augment their programming and be able to provide things in summer that just probably wouldnâ€™t have happened otherwise," explained Councillor Ben Henderson, who is chair of the Inter-city Forum on Social Policy, the other group behind the survey.
"These were not 100 per cent funded programs by the province. The province put in x amount of dollars and everyone else was expected to come in and significantly top up the wages, and often, significantly top up the number of weeks that students were employed."
Henderson said it's not just the provincial piece of the pie that's being lost.
"We end up losing that ability to leverage that other kind of effort to get significantly more than the sum of its parts."
The results of the survey have been forwarded to the Human Services Ministry, with the hope that the province will listen.
"Our hope is that we will be able to work with government to look at what we might be able to do in terms of developing some other program that might better suit the needs," said Morrissey.
According to the Federation of Community Leagues, $150,000 dollars in one-time funding has been secured from the province to cover the Green Shack program in 15 high-needs areas of Edmonton.
With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News
By Alicja Siekierska, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Starting in August, nearly 1,000 lower income Edmonton households relying on monthly rent subsidies will find themselves short a crucial $50.
The Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) in Edmonton is reducing the maximum rent supplements given to 916 households that rely on the subsidies, from $550 a month to $500.
In the March provincial budget, the government cut rent supplement funding across the province by $6.6 million, forcing the CRHC to make program cuts and reduce their maximum amount of direct-to-tenant rent supplement going toward lower income households.
CRHC executive director Greg Bounds said the reduction was the best way to ensure those households currently receiving rental assistance would continue to do so.
"We had a reduction in the amount of dollars available in our budget, but we wanted to ensure that we could continue to supply rent supplements to everyone who is using our programs today," said Bounds.
Many are criticizing the government's rent supplement cuts, saying the reduction will have a drastic impact on Edmonton's most vulnerable population that relies on the subsidies each month.
"It's going to put these families in a position where they are forced to make an impossible choice," said NDP Municipal Affairs critic Deron Bilous at a news conference earlier this week. "Either they pay their rent and keep a roof over their heads, they pay the bills or they can feed their families."
Members of the opposition are calling on the government to restore the rent supplement funding in the province.
"The impact of these cuts for these families is significant," said Bilous. "Many of the families that are receiving this supplement are recipients of (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) funding or other forms of income support."
Municipal Affairs spokeswoman Trisha Anderson said the rent supplement budget was reduced based on spending allocations from previous years. She said the government will still be able to supply more than 12,000 households across Alberta with rent subsidies each month.
John Kolkman, a research co-ordinator for the Edmonton Social Planning Council, believes the reductions are going to be damaging given the current state of the city's rental market.
"It's a very challenging time to be implementing these kind of cuts," said Kolkman "They are coming when vacancy rates are dropping, and while rental rates are going up. It's very much becoming a landlord's market."
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.'s most recent market survey, out of every 100 rental units in the city, only one is available. The apartment vacancy rate in Edmonton dropped from 2.7 per cent last year to a mere 1.2 in April 2013.
The survey also indicated that while vacancy rates continue to decline, rental rates are rising. In Edmonton, the average cost of a two-bedroom suite increased by 4.2 per cent from April 2012 to April 2013.
"Not only should the cuts be reversed, but the province should be investing more in rental assistance programs," said Kolkman.
Kolkman said rent assistance, including the direct-to-tenant rent supplement program, can act as a homelessness prevention measure.
"If you cannot afford to pay your rent, there is a real risk you may become homeless."
The households currently qualifying for the rent subsidies will see their monthly payments reduced starting Aug. 1, however, the new maximum will only be implemented after each individual client's annual income review date.
Bounds said the process of switching over to the reduced subsidy will happen gradually.
"This isn't happening overnight. It will be implemented in stages over the next year."
Bounds said the direct-to-tenant supplements are the only rent subsidies affected by the budget cuts. He said the CRHC will continue to accept new, qualified clients, although they can expect to be put on a waitlist.
Buying a new home is not an affordable option for many Canadians due to the fact that in the decade leading up to 2010, the price of a new home nearly doubled, while incomes didn't even hit a double-digit increase.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) Rental Market Report from October 2012 states that in 2001, the average price of a new home in Canada was $234 387, and by 2010 it rose to $454 154-$458 111 in Edmonton. To break it down even more: between 2006 and 2009, the average income for singles, couples and single parents only rose 5.5 percent, but the average cost of a new home increased 22 percent.
These housing increases inevitably lead to a great deal of debt. Canada's level of household debt-to-income is at 158 percent, and 68 percent of that is from mortgages. In its 2012 report "No Vacancy: Trends in Rental Housing in Canada," the Federation of Canadian Municipalities states that since 2005, the cost of owning a home has risen three times faster than income. For this reason, many people continue to rent-one-third of Canadians are renters-but since 2000, the number of rental units has declined while the cost of renting has increased more than 20 percent.
"Affordable rental housing is decreasing, and what we're seeing is an increase in the number of condos that are being built as opposed to rental construction," says FCM president and city councillor Karen Leibovici. She says that Edmonton has had an affordable-housing initiative for nearly 10 years, since the last economic boom happened and a lot of people were moving into the city.
"It was very difficult to find accommodation and housing prices were increasing rapidly, but the number of rental units that were available were not increasing at the same rate as the level of need," Leibovici says.
But finding affordable rental units in Edmonton continues to be quite a challenge, as anyone who's been on an apartment search can attest to. CMHC states that rents are up and vacancy rates are down. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Edmonton in 2012 was $1071, up 3.7 percent from a year earlier. But the vacancy rate of apartments was at 1.7 percent, down from 3.3 percent the previous year. A balanced vacancy rate sits at about three percent and affordable rental housing-including utilities-should cost less than 30 percent of before-tax household income, according to the CMHC.
"Rents have actually gone up," says John Kolkman, a public policy researcher with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, a research and advocacy organization that educates the public on social issues. "Between 2002 and 2012 they've gone up 51.1 percent, if you want to get technical. They haven't gone up as much as home prices and I think part of the reason for that is that home prices have doubled, and part of the reason for that is low interest rates that made home ownership more affordable."
Many of Edmonton's renters cannot even afford market rent and rely on rental subsidies or affordable-housing units. For example, the Capital Region Housing Commission (CRHC) offers rental units below market rent; tenants pay 10 to 20 percent less than the going rate. In 2012, the CRHC served 21 000 people-the majority of whom made less than $30 000 in annual household income-managed and operated over 5000 units and provided over 4000 rent supplements from a rent supplement budget of $18.5 million. One thousand households moved on from the housing programs that year, which allowed for 1000 to take their places, but over 2000 remain on the wait list.
However, in the 2013 budget, the Alberta government cut funding to help low-income Albertans pay rent from $71.1 million in 2012 to $64.5 million in 2013.
"That's probably a recipe for financial hardship and for people at the very bottom end, possibly a bit of a recipe for increased homelessness despite the fact that the Alberta government says it's committed to a 10-year plan to end homelessness," Kolkman says. "Really, there's no question that in a rental market where rents are going up and vacancy rates have gone down substantially, the amount of funding for rent supplements should be going up rather than being cut."
For one segment of Edmonton's population-women and children leaving domestic-violence situations-finding affordable rentals is next to impossible.
"I know a lot of our women struggle because most of them are living well below poverty level," says Carrie-Lynn Mullin, an outreach worker with Edmonton's women's shelter, WIN House. "The rate at which they receive social services is well below the poverty level, so they're very limited in what's available to them, so they usually end up having to look for rents that are in the very lowest price range available in the city, and they're often not suitable housing."
She says her clients often have to take dirty and run-down apartments in high-crime areas.
"The reason they're affordable is because landlords are having trouble renting them out," Mullin adds. "So we do see a lot of inner-city housing available, oftentimes in buildings not suitable for children. We have stories about people coming and going selling drugs, prostitution."
Mullin says many places discriminate against the women because they are receiving social assistance rather than working or don't have a letter of reference from a previous landlord-an absurd request when a woman and her children have been living with her partner up until that point. She says CRHC is a great program, but because the women are in immediate crisis, they don't have time to wait for months-or years-for an apartment to become available. Shelter time is 21 days only (three months for a special shelter for immigrant women) and then they're on their own.
"I know the City of Edmonton offers HomeEd. It's non-profit housing, so it's not the same as Capital Region Housing, which is low-income," Mullin says. "They offer low-market rent and they have a certain number of subsidized units in each complex and the rest are just below market price, so it is more affordable than renting privately. But we've actually had women turned away because they're fleeing domestic violence and they told us that they will not accept [these] women, and their reasoning is that women come from a domestic violence situation, then they'll move their partner back in and it causes damage and it causes fighting and they don't want that in their complexes. ... So that's the city providing a service which is saying, 'We're not going to help the people who are obviously in the most need because they're homeless and they're on a fixed income and they need immediate help.'"
When asked if this was true, Bill Bell, executive director of HomeEd, said he was unable to go into detail about situations where people are turned away, but said HomeEd does work with Wings of Providence, a secondary-stage shelter for women and children, if they request housing for their clients.
Affordable rentals will continue to be an issue for Edmonton's residents and for all Canadians in major centres. The FCM has suggested a number of things to make sure a good supply of rental units remain, including giving tax credits to developers who decide not to turn rentals into condos or giving tax credits for converting units into eco-energy rental housing. And since the federal government renewed its commitment to affordable housing programs in this year's budget-which would have ended in 2014-the FCM will also have an opportunity to sit down with the appropriate departments and come up with a plan for the future of rental housing.
In the meantime, wait lists are too long, rents are too high and vacancy rates remain too low