Edmonton

Affordable housing strategy not about privatization, minister says

The Alberta government plans to sell off and transfer ownership of provincially-owned affordable housing units but says it isn’t privatizing the system. It says it is entering into agreements with third parties to create more capacity.

Proposed legislation would allow Alberta government to partner with developers

Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon introduced Bill 78 in the Alberta legislature Monday. (Government of Alberta feed)

The Alberta government plans to sell off and transfer ownership of provincially-owned affordable housing units but says it isn't privatizing the system.

Instead it says it is only entering into agreements with third parties to create more capacity.

"It's a partnership. It's not privatization," Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon said Monday before tabling Bill 78, the Alberta Housing Amendment Act.

The proposed legislation enables components of the United Conservative government's 10-year affordable housing strategy.

A key part of the strategy is changing the role of the government from an owner of affordable housing to a regulator and funder. 

The province owns about 27,000 affordable housing units. Many are at least 35 years old and need renovations. 

Pon said there are two options for handling the housing stock. 

In the first scenario, units that are unusable due to their poor condition or inadequate size could be sold at market value, with the proceeds used to finance new affordable housing. 

In the second scenario, the province would transfer ownership of the asset to a third party such as a non-profit organization or for-profit developer.

Pon said a caveat would be placed on the title to ensure the property is only used for affordable housing. 

P3s on the table

Bill 78 also includes changes to existing legislation, giving the Alberta Social Housing Corporation the ability to set up private-public partnerships to build new affordable units and renovate existing housing stock. 

The province plans to encourage construction of new units by offering financial incentives to developers that include affordable units in mixed-income housing projects. 

The program aims to create 13,000 affordable housing units and provide rent assistance to 12,000 more households. 

The new program is based on recommendations from the 2020 affordable housing review panel chaired by Calgary-Cross UCP MLA Mickey Amery.

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson, the NDP housing critic, said Bill 78 looks like the government is trying to sell off its own portfolio of affordable housing stock while people are languishing on waiting lists. 

"The UCP are trying to avoid responsibility to provide safe housing to Albertans. They leave many questions unanswered," Sigurdson said. "Who will these new homes serve? What do the private developers who build these homes receive? And, what measures will be in place to ensure Albertans who need housing are served?"

Brad Lafortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, is also concerned particularly about language in the bill that suggests the government is leaning toward privatization, despite what Pon insists. 

He said the province should look to collaborating better with other levels of government and spending more money to build more types of supportive and affordable housing. Lafortune said the government should also institute a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions until the end of 2022.

"Housing is a human right," he said. "After decades of cuts and privatization and stagnating wages … we need to start playing catch-up yesterday, urgently and this report and this bill just doesn't do that." 

The Alberta government estimates that about 24,000 households are on a waiting list for affordable housing. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada. You can reach her at Michelle.Bellefontaine@cbc.ca.

With files from Janet French

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