Edmonton mayor names 16-member task force to tackle housing and homelessness

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi takes questions from news media after his state of the city address on Friday at the Edmonton Convention Centre.  (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi takes questions from news media after his state of the city address on Friday at the Edmonton Convention Centre. (Natasha Riebe/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi has high hopes that a new task force will put a dent in the city's housing and homelessness crisis.

Sohi delivered a state of the city address Friday, during which he announced the formation of the community mobilization task force on housing and houselessness.

The 16-member group will try to solve homelessness in Edmonton, Sohi said. It will also try reducing bureaucratic roadblocks so developers can build more non-market, supportive housing, as well as affordable housing.

"This is not about studying the issue. We have studied the issue. We know why houselessness exists," the mayor said.

"This is about implementing solutions and finding creative, innovative ways of unlocking some of those solutions."

The task force was created as part of a motion city council passed in January, when it declared a housing and houselessness emergency.

The group features people from various backgrounds, including current and former city officials, housing agency officials and people from Indigenous communities:

  • Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford

  • Former city councillor Michael Phair

  • Dinika Matychuk, Leston Holdings

  • Doug Griffiths, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

  • Dr. Joshua Evans, University of Alberta

  • Glori Sharphead, Enoch Cree Wellness

  • Gord Johnston, Civida

  • Jim Brown, Sherrick Developments

  • Keri Cardinal, Niginan Housing Ventures

  • Margo Long, Youth Empowerment and Support Services

  • Mike Saunders, Qualico Developments

  • Murray Soroka, Jasper Place Wellness

  • Nick Lilley, HomeEd

  • Omar Yakub, Islamic Family and Social Services Association

  • Rob Yager, United Way

  • Tina Thomas, Edmonton Community Foundation

In 2023, City of Edmonton bylaw officers and Edmonton Police Service members tore down more than 2,400 encampments — up from 1,920 in 2022.

About 1,600 encampment sites have been removed since Jan. 17, according to city spokesperson Lisa Glover.

Youth participation 

Margo Long, president and CEO of the Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS), agrees that the task forces needs to take a fresh approach.

"We've been doing the same thing over and over again, and wondering why things aren't changing. It's time to do something different to disrupt and plan for long-term," Long, a task force member, told reporters after Sohi's speech Friday.

Including the youth agency at the table is a step in that direction — something it sought for many years, she said.

The younger demographic face some significant issues, including homelessness, she said, so it's crucial to start helping people earlier, while their brains and life skills are developing.

In the short term, developers and home builders play a fundamental role in affordable housing, but the city can get cut through red tape, and amend land use bylaws and regulation, said Doug Griffiths, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

"We need a strategy that's going to help with that population growth," said Griffiths, who is also on the task force.

The city and provincial government need to work together to create a more integrated approach to the housing crisis, that includes the health care, business and development sectors, he said.

"Everyone needs to come together to address that," he said.

Province absent

The group doesn't include a representative from the provincial government nor the Edmonton Police Service.

Sohi said the task force is focused on bringing community members together and that the city will continue to engage with the provincial and federal governments as main funding contributors.

Sarah Hoffman, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Glenora and a party leadership candidate, attended Sohi's state of the city speech.

"The province needs to come to the table with cities like Edmonton. We are in a housing crisis. Rents continue to skyrocket and the dream of home ownership is more unattenable," Hoffman wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"We are past the point of task forces and need to see concrete action."