Edmonton councillor calls for social housing across 'entire' city

The City of Edmonton has to be more proactive in communicating with residents on how to end homelessness, including building social housing in communities across the entire city, Coun. Andrew Knack says.

'This is something we have to work on together,' says Coun. Andrew Knack

Ambrose Place in the McCauley neighbourhood provides permanent housing for 50 people with substance abuse issues. (CBC)

Some may think it's never going to happen.

Ask your average Edmontonian about the city's 10-year-plan to end homelessness, and you'll likely get some eyes rolling or heads shaking.

But the goal has its share of crusaders and Coun. Andrew Knack is one of them.

Knack said it's going to take collaboration and consultation.

"We have to go out to communities across the entire city — not just in the downtown core, the Stony Plain Road core, in the west end," he said. "We have to go out to all communities and say, 'Listen, this is something we have to work on together,' " he told CBC News. 
Coun. Andrew Knack wants the city to talk to residents in different neighbourhoods about potential affordable and supportive housing projects. (CBC )

Knack was responding to a "social forecast" presented to city council this week, showing there were 1,700 homeless people in Edmonton in 2016, with 70 per cent of them considered chronically homeless.

He said he believes permanent supportive housing needs to be built in neighbourhoods across the city and that residents must understand why that is necessary.

That means the perceived NIMBY effect — the "not in my backyard" mentality — has to go, he said.

"We're not going to build 500 units [in] one building where we house everyone who is chronically homeless," he argued. "It's likely to be much smaller buildings, 30 to 40 people per space, which means every community is going to need to provide homes."

Council newcomer Sarah Hamilton said social housing should be considered on a project-by-project basis. 
Rob Smyth, the city's deputy manager of citizen services, gave council a breakdown of Edmonton's social conditions. (CBC)

"Look at each project and make sure that we've done our due diligence as a city," she said. "I think we see better lives for Edmontonians when we have those [affordable housing], but I think we also have to be judicious in how we approve projects."

Social forecast

Rob Smyth, deputy city manager for citizen services, presented the social forecast — a first for city administration.

The forecast, based on a survey by the Edmonton Community Foundation, shows nearly 11 per cent of Edmontonians in 2016 were considered low-income earners. One-third of single-parent families lived in poverty.

Smyth said the social forecast is a guideline for council to make decisions, and is directly connected with the economic outlook.

No policy decisions have been made on where to put new housing, but Smyth said his department is working on a plan for council to consider in the second quarter of 2018.

"The whole continuum of housing needs to be looked at," he said.

Money for affordable and permanent supportive housing comes from provincial and federal governments.The city's role is to free up land where social housing can be built, said Knack.

The social forecast also showed the crime severity index has been going up since 2013.

While violent crime, including homicides, sexual assault and robberies, dropped in 2016 from the year before, domestic violence increased over the same period.

Hamilton said she and Coun. Bev Esslinger want an update on the rate of domestic violence in Edmonton. 
Sarah Hamilton, new councillor for Ward 5, wants the city to decide on social housing projects on a case-by-case basis. (CBC)

Racism cited as a problem

More than 50 per cent of survey respondents said racism is a problem in Edmonton. But over half of respondents said they feel connected to their community — a trend that has been increasing since 2013.

The immigrant community has also expanded. Over 30 per cent of people living in Edmonton come from another country.

Edmonton is one of the most linguistically diverse cities in Canada," the forecast said. Tagalog, Punjabi and Arabic are among the fastest growing languages in the city.

The social forecast also said more than half of LGBTQ youth don't feel safe at school.


Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.