Council and police say social housing needed in Edmonton

Police and Edmonton city council are asking the province to change how it houses vulnerable people.

Project Watch revealed province was housing families in sub-standard motel rooms

Police chief Rod Knecht said some of the motels had rats, poorly vented sewers and asbestos. (CBC )

Police and Edmonton city council are asking the province to change how it houses vulnerable people.

The provincial government has used motels as temporary housing for people awaiting subsidized housing.

Almost 90 per cent of the $4.5 million allocated for this type of housing is spent in Edmonton.

Last year, the poor conditions of some of these units were uncovered through a police initiative called Project Watch.

Eighteen buildings have been inspected since the project launched in June 2014. One motel was closed down. Another has been marked for closure.

Police Chief Rod Knecht said every property had problems. Some had minor issues but others had significant health and structural problems that could make people sick.

"Their health was in danger staying in some of these places because of asbestos, sewers not being vented properly, because of bugs and cockroaches and rats," he said.

Then there are the social problems which make a bad situation worse. The motels attract criminals who like to prey on vulnerable people, Knecht said.  

People need to get out of those bad situations, but they need somewhere to go. Knecht said Edmonton needs more affordable housing and places for the hard-to-house to live.

Derek Rossi has endured having mice running under the blankets of his bed. The provincial government has housed him in a motel for nearly two years. He said the experience has taken a toll. 

"I am not the same person that I was a couple of years ago," he said. "You have to be street smart out here or you're gonna get it. It's just how it is."

Mayor Don Iveson says the government needs to develop social housing as part of its provincial strategy. He said the response from the new NDP government is positive.

"I'm confident that from the city side, the right co-ordination is happening, but ultimately this is in the hands of the province," he said.

The city has a number of ways to shut down deficient properties which includes revoking a motel's business license.