Edmonton's strategy to curb homelessness got a boost this week when council agreed the city should transfer four plots of land to a group planning to build 150 units of permanent supportive housing.
The Homeward Trust Foundation has the preliminary designs for four complexes on lots in Terrace Heights, King Edward Park, McArthur Industrial and Inglewood.
Before council approved the land transfer at a meeting Monday, a few councillors put city staff on the spot for neglecting to consult residents ahead of time.
Coun. Ben Henderson, whose Ward 8 would be home to a 40-unit building in Terrace Heights, said the move was news to many people.
"We haven't done any public engagement really yet," Henderson said. "The way this rolls out, it has the appearance of a decision that's being made before we've done that public consultation."
Permanent supportive housing has been controversial in the past — it houses and provides on-site help for chronically homeless people with addictions or mental health problems.
The public engagement is about to begin, according to Colton Kirsop, manager of housing and homelessness project development.
Kirsop assured council that Homeward Trust must meet several conditions before the transfer would be final.
It will have to show detailed plans to engage the community, sign an affordable housing agreement with the city and prove it has the money to follow through with the projects, which could take months.
Three of the sites must be rezoned before the deal would be final, Kirsop said.
"If any of these conditions aren't met, the transfer won't happen," he said.
'Show and tell'
Mike Nickel, councillor for King Edward Park, said the plan is for "good social outcomes" but some of his constituents feel they were left in the dark.
"Much to their surprise, this decision is being made and they're completely unaware of it, "Nickel told city staff. "Obviously it's going to strike them that this is a show and tell."
Nickel said some of his constituents were unlikely to see the city as a neutral participant in the upcoming public engagement.
Kirsop said the city is set to launch digital consultation forums next week and move through a "very detailed engagement process."
"We'll be able to be transparent in this engagement process earlier rather than later," he said.
Susan McGee, CEO of Homeward Trust, said council's approval gives the non-profit housing organization the green light to start sharing plans and getting feedback from residents.
"We can't really consult — from an organization outside of the city — on land we neither have ownership of or confirmed commitments around," she said in an interview Monday.
"There's a bit of a chicken and egg around the timing of the beginning of that."
McGee said they also wanted to make sure they had designs in hand, "to actually bring in front of the community and share with them what the plans would be."
The proposed site at 141st Street and 137th Avenue in McArthur Industrial borders the Wellington neighbourhood.
Michelle Addo, president of the Wellington Park Community League, said the city recently told them about the plan.
"It is too early to comment regarding how our community residents are feeling towards the proposed supportive housing project," Addo said in an email to CBC News. "The residents have questions that should be answered in the coming weeks."
200 metre radius
Kirsop said the city notified community leagues within a 200-metre radius of the sites.
In relation to the Terrace Heights proposal, the city will contact leagues in Montrose, Bellevue, Cromdale, Eastwood, and the Alberta Avenue Business Improvement Area.
Tony Caterina, councillor for Ward 7 in the northeast, said that doesn't reach far enough.
"There's going to be a number of community leagues that have expressed concerns that will not be in the notification."
Caterina said residents in Beverly and Highlands have expressed concerns that they weren't told and won't be part of the consultations.
Kirsop offered to discuss the option of including more neighbourhoods in the engagement process.
McGee noted that the project is in preliminary stages with funding one major component left to sort out. The city and Homeward Trust are waiting for provincial and federal money.
The capital cost to build the four projects would be about $35 million. The annual operating cost is estimated at about $4.5 million.
"We are still confirming and seeking the remaining capital in order to proceed with the sites," McGee said.
If the consultations go well and legal processes are in place by the fall, she said, construction could start as early as next year.