Edmonton

Hotels for homeless: Edmonton aims to buy 'surplus' buildings for winter

The City of Edmonton will attempt to buy underused hotels and apartment buildings to house homeless people this fall and winter, council agreed in a motion Wednesday. 

'The rooms exist, the roofs exist,' Mayor Don Iveson says

Edmonton has an estimated 2,000 homeless people this year. (David Bajer/CBC)

The City of Edmonton will attempt to buy underused hotels and apartment buildings to house homeless people this fall and winter, council agreed in a motion Wednesday. 

Mayor Don Iveson will ask the federal and provincial governments for money to purchase real estate that has dropped in price because of COVID-19 pandemic.

"The rooms exist, the roofs exist," Iveson said during the meeting. "Suitable properties may be on sale. If we act in unison, we may be able to secure really good value for the taxpayer." 

The motion comes less than a week after Iveson stepped up the urgency for action, declaring the need for a 10-week plan to end homelessness before winter in a pandemic. 

If the city is successful at securing funding, the housing would accommodate short and medium-term transitional and supportive housing. 

"Rather than more tents or more trailers or more mats on gym floors — and there may be a certain amount of that in between — I'd like to see the permanent units, which are available in surplus in the economy today, secured to do this," Iveson said.

The motion doesn't include a dollar amount. The mayor said the city wouldn't negotiate with the federal and provincial governments in public or compromise a competitive process to secure real estate.

The city has completed a preliminary market analysis to gauge the supply. Iveson said there was "extra inventory" before March. 

"Early on in the pandemic we'd heard from a lot of hotels that were closed — many are still operating at massively reduced capacity," Iveson said.

The plan would also help the hospitality industry and owners who can't afford to hold onto their real estate, Iveson suggested. 

"There are a lot of hotel owners who would be very happy to find expedited exit from some of their properties." 

Acquiring the real estate would be in addition to projects the city is already working on, including four permanent supportive housing projects and converting jockey dorm rooms at Northlands and Expo grounds into transitional housing. 

@natashariebe

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