New Edmonton supportive housing complexes ready for tenants but remain vacant

·4 min read
The supporting housing complex at King Edward Park, shown here, with 30 apartment suites, was completed in late June and transferred from the city to Homeward Trust. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)
The supporting housing complex at King Edward Park, shown here, with 30 apartment suites, was completed in late June and transferred from the city to Homeward Trust. (Nathan Gross/CBC - image credit)

Several dozen apartment units in two new supportive housing complexes remain vacant, while a local housing agency figures out how to run them without extra funds.

The City of Edmonton finished building a complex in King Edward Park in late June, and  another in Inglewood in mid-July. The buildings are designed and built to house people with chronic mental health and addictions issues, with 24-7 staffing support.

The city and Homeward Trust confirmed this week that nobody has moved into the roughly 60 available units, saying they need more money from the Alberta government to operate the facilities.

"The need is very high," said Homeward Trust CEO Susan McGee. "The lack of sufficient resources to address it, certainly there's a frustrating element to that."

The two complexes are among five in the works — a total of 210 units — which the city is paying for with $28 million of its own money, as well as $35 million from the federal government's Rapid Housing Initiative program.

Since the beginning of the year, mayor Amarjeet Sohi has been asking the Alberta government to contribute $11 million that would go toward staff and the facilities' operations.

Coun. Andrew Knack is getting increasingly frustrated, especially now that the buildings are ready for tenants.

"We still don't have a willing partner on the provincial side to save lives and — [it's] worth repeating 100,000 times — saving money," Knack told CBC News last week.

The hardest-to-house people, who are living rough on the streets, ended up in hospital on a collective average of 200 nights a year, Knack said, citing statistics from other agencies.

"The cost of that is enormous," he said, adding that it also prevents others from receiving health care they need.

Knack also wonders why the province won't use some of its recently revised $13 billion budget surplus to help end homelessness in Edmonton.

The Alberta government recognizes that the city of Edmonton has experienced an increase in homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will work with the city to explore how to help and protect those citizens, said Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan in an email to CBC News last week.

Allocated funds not enough, McGee says

The province gives Homeward Trust Edmonton $29 million to operate more than 400 supportive housing units, Luan said.

McGee, of Homeward Trust, said that budget is spent on many programs, including rental assistance to help 1,000 people — on average — stay in their existing housing.

"What is allocated is a lot less than any of the plans to end homelessness ever identified and our current requirements are," McGee said.

The housing agency has been analyzing existing programs to see where they can move money around to help pay for the new supportive housing units in King Edward Park and Inglewood, she added.

Homeward Trust is also relying on funding from the federal and municipal governments to help the agency operate the buildings for the next 18 months.

A few tenants could move in as early as the coming week, McGee said, but it will be a staggered process.

Other complexes behind schedule

All five supportive housing complexes were originally slated to be completed by the end of 2021.

The city said labour and supply chain complications continue to cause delays.

The complexes at Westmount and Terrace Heights are almost finished, while the one at McArthur/Wellington is expected to be completed by mid-October, the city said.

The Alberta government spent $16.4 million on the Westmount site through its Municipal Stimulus Program.

When construction is complete, the city will apply for occupancy permits and transfer the sites to Homeward Trust, who then selects an operator.

The Bissell Centre will run the complex at King Edward Park, when it's ready to open.

Meanwhile, the city, using additional funding from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative, is creating another 243 units of supportive housing through three hotel conversion projects.

The hotels being converted include: the former Days Inn, on University Avenue and 103rd Street, operated by the Mustard Seed; the former Sands Inn and Suites on Fort Road, operated by Niginan Housing Ventures; and the Coliseum Inn on 118th Avenue.