Bylaw change relaxes rules for supportive housing in Edmonton

More than 30 people living on the street or in Edmonton parks may have new homes in the coming months.

Amended zoning will allow supportive housing to be built in more neighbourhoods

A city council committee voted Tuesday to make it easier to allow permanent supportive housing in more neighbourhoods across Edmonton. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

More than 30 people living on the streets or in Edmonton parks may have new homes in the coming months.

Council's urban planning committee agreed in principle Tuesday to amend a zoning bylaw to allow permanent supportive housing to be built in more neighbourhoods across the city.

Coun. Michael Walters has been pushing for more non-market and supportive housing for years.

"We've been talking about housing homeless people in Edmonton for a number of years," Walters said. "We've had 10-year plans for more than 10 years. The answer to homelessness is housing."

Walters noted that one developer is ready to build 36 units this year but has been stymied by the bylaw restrictions.
"We created the pathway to take a big bite out of homeless population today and house them with dignity," Walters said after the meeting. 

The changes will loosen rules that currently limit the number of permanent supportive housing projects to two per block and restrict them from properties closer than 150 metres to the nearest intersection.

Plans for supportive housing in west end

The bylaw changes will allow Steve Hughes, a building developer working with Jasper Place Wellness Centre, to move ahead with plans to build three 12-unit buildings in Glenwood to house 36 people.

"Today's decision makes that project possible," Hughes told media after the meeting. 

His group will apply for permits to build on three 40-foot lots in Glenwood at 160th Street and 100th Avenue, starting this October.

The permanent supportive projects look like a house, with one-third of the space as common area, he said.

A developer plans to build permanent supportive housing on 160th Street and 100th Avenue to house 36 people in need. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Hughes said the cozier environment encourages healthier living for people chosen to live in the units. Tenants are chronically homeless people diagnosed with mental illness and addiction.

"In the right environment, they can survive independently," Hughes said.

Arliss Kootenayoo lives in the neighbourhood and say he's happy it will be easier for developers to build permanent supportive housing facilities.

"That's an awesome idea, I just worry about people accepting it … in different neighbourhoods," he said.

This is probably the perfect place for it to happen.- Arliss Kootenayoo, Glenwood resident

The Glenwood project would fill a need for supportive housing in the west end, he said.

"If it's going to happen in the west end, this is probably the perfect place for it to happen," he said.

"For this to come here, it's a good thing. It's a very good thing."

But Erin Bull, whose home sits right next to the development site, isn't so sure.

"I have five kids next door, so I'd kind of be on edge about that," she said.

Bull said Glenwood is a fairly quiet neighbourhood, and she worries adding 36 housing units could increase foot traffic significantly.

'It affects entire communities'

Hughes wants to build 25 homes over the next two years for a total of 300 units, close to transit and services, including outreach support.

Hughes said his group was in jeopardy of losing provincial funding if the changes weren't made, which he said would be "the ultimate crime where the NIMBYs would have really got their way."

Coun. Scott McKeen lauded the committee's move on Tuesday, which he hopes will ease tensions in his downtown ward, where tent cities have surfaced in Dawson Park, Chinatown and Riverdale.

"It is a crisis," McKeen said. "It affects not just the vulnerable people who are living rough, it affects entire communities and it affects business. I'm really excited about seeing solutions emerge, much sooner than maybe we would have anticipated a year ago." 

In May, council directed administration to fast-track plans for new permanent supportive housing, expressing frustration that new units were taking so long. 

The city has committed $132 million over the next four years for 2,500 new units of affordable housing.

About $30 million is set aside to acquire land to support 600 units of permanent supportive housing. 

The proposed changes to the bylaw must be discussed at a public hearing, set for July 15, before council can give final approval. 

Council's urban planning committee also agreed Tuesday to amend bylaws around multi-family housing, to facilitate more infill and multi-unit housing. 

With files from Anna McMillan


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