‘It’s time the NIMBYs take their share’: Where should social housing in Edmonton go?

EDMONTON – In October 2012, city council put a three-year moratorium on new, publicly-funded “non-market” (social) housing in five neighbourhoods.

Councillors felt the communities of Alberta Avenue, Central McDougall, Eastwood, McCauley and Queen Mary Park needed time to build relationships between residents, stakeholders and the city, a report to executive committee reads.

In September 2015, that moratorium was extended one year.

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    “People living in poverty need really good housing, either in the market or, more often than not, non-market housing for them to be successful in climbing their way out of poverty,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “What we’re really talking about here is over-concentration of poverty in these neighbourhoods and what kinds of interventions are required to help families be more successful and reduce poverty and ultimately eliminate it in these communities.”

    “We know that these projects need to be distributed equitably around the city so as to not over burden any one neighbourhood,” the mayor added.

    With the Oct. 31, 2016 deadline approaching, councillors and stakeholders are looking at possible exemptions to the moratorium.

    For instance, the executive committee recommended to city council that the following exemptions be approved:

    Mixed-market projects (both market and non-market);Affordable home ownership projects;Seniors’ housing;Small-scale non-market housing (four units or less);Non-market projects with family-appropriate units (two or more bedrooms).

    However, the proposal is a contentious one. Many in the affected communities feel their neighbourhoods already contain a disproportionate amount of social housing. Some residents feel they are already carrying more than their fair share of the load.

    “What’s happened right now is most of the housing dollars provided by the province since 2007, 2008 they went towards housing in five core neighbourhoods and they resulted in furthering the concentration of poverty and furthering the impact of what we experience as street disorder and crime,” Cris Basualdo, an Alberta Avenue resident, explained.

    She thinks Edmonton needs to look at the bigger picture.

    “City-wide policy that will ensure that housing is distributed city-wide.”

    Jordan Reiniger lives in the Boyle Street neighbourhood and believes social housing has a stigma it doesn’t necessarily deserve.

    “The idea that people in poverty are somehow dangerous or scary, and it’s not true.”

    “A moratorium on housing is a bit of blunt instrument. Saying non-market housing is the problem – well, in our neighbourhood, it’s actually market housing that’s the majority of the problem. Non-market housing provides part of the solution,” Reiniger said.

    Ultimately, he thinks the solution is a project-by-project approach.

    “Where you say: is this going to fit in the neighbourhood? Is this going to contribute positively to the neighbourhood or not?”

    (*Note: NIMBY is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard.)

    Since 2009, stakeholders and residents have attended more than 50 group meetings, neighbourhood workshops and open houses to discuss housing issues connected to the moratorium. Beginning Nov. 2015, the city gathered additional feedback from online surveys and in-person meetings. It found reaction to the idea of exemptions was diverse.

    “Multiple community leagues were less supportive of exemptions and preferred an ongoing, broadly defined moratorium,” the report reads. “Other residents and stakeholders voiced general concerns about the funding pause approach, and suggested that well-managed affordable housing was part of the solution and not the cause of neighbourhood problems. Multiple stakeholders also argued that the moratorium is a discriminatory practice that stigmatizes low-income residents in the inner city.”

    Out of the proposed exemptions, seniors’ housing was the most accepted. Those who gave input “consistently opposed expanding the existing supply” of shelter beds and transitional housing.

    When asked about a city-wide policy on non-market housing Tuesday, administration said: “We’re closer than most people think.”

    “I’m going to expect leadership from this council – you’re going to get it from me – that we’re going to need to build housing all around the city,” Iveson said. “It’s not going to be in every neighbourhood. It’s going to be closer to transit, it’s going to be closer to services.

    “Yes, people are going to push back and say, ‘no I don’t want those poor people living in my neighbourhood,’ but frankly, I’d say that’s an un-Edmontonian attitude.”