City wants more government help to pay for affordable housing, transit

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson is asking federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau for a lot more money to help the city with affordable housing and transit.

City should only front 10 per cent of LRT, affordable housing, Mayor Don Iveson says

Edmonton mayor Don Iveson is asking federal finance minister Bill Morneau for more money to help the city with housing and transit. 0:41

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson is asking federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau for a lot more money to help the city with affordable housing and transit.

Iveson made the request in a letter to Morneau on Monday, in advance of the 2017 federal budget.

He's asking the federal government to move away from the traditional formula for major projects that sees all levels of government sharing the same percentage of costs.

Instead of each level of government taking on a third of the costs, Iveson is proposing the federal and provincial government take on 90 per cent per cent of the up-front costs.

That would leave Edmonton to pick up the remaining 10 per cent, rather than the 33 per cent it pays now for most major projects.

"The fundamental principle is that we get no immediate return on investment in terms of tax uplift in terms of these projects, and our fiscal capacity is that of an order of government that has about a tenth of the money," Iveson said.

He said the city will end up paying far more than the remaining 10 per cent, when the cost of operating and maintenance are taken into account.

"We're undertaking 100 per cent of the operating and maintenance costs," he said.

Iveson used the example of the Valley Line LRT.

He said when the full cost of operating that line is taken into account, Edmonton's share works out to 74 per cent, an amount he argued is not sustainable or fair for the city to bear.

"In order to try and equalize this over the life of one of these big projects, moving to a higher up-front share for the province and the feds gets us in that direction," he said.

The biggest projects Iveson wants to see funding for include expansion of the LRT Valley Line from downtown to Lewis Farms, and the Metro Line from NAIT to Blatchford.

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Investment in affordable housing needed

Affordable housing is also an area where Iveson said the city needs more help.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has already asked the federal government to dedicate more than $12 billion for housing across the country.

We will make sure that Edmonton's needs are heard.- Amarjeet Sohi, Infrastructure Minister

Iveson said with that kind of investment from the feds, the city could create 1,000 permanent supportive housing units for those who are homeless who are more challenging to house.

"For my money as a taxpayer, 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing is way cheaper than the hospital, when the average stay for someone who's homeless who gets admitted to a hospital is 66 days," he said.

"That would pay for more than a year of permanent supportive housing."

There are some positive signs that Iveson's requests will be met with success.

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi was in Edmonton on Tuesday to make announcements about funding for Canada's 150th birthday celebrations.

He said Edmonton will "absolutely" get more LRT funding.

"We will make sure that Edmonton's needs are heard," he said.

"We will make sure that Edmonton gets the support it needs to advance this ambitious plan to expand the LRT system as well as provide affordable housing for Edmontonians."

About the Author

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.