Edmonton·Audio

Proposed Grande Prairie affordable housing corporation under fire from developers

Members of Grande Prairie's land development and housing industry aren't happy with the City's affordable housing strategy.

'There needs to be restrictions on the city competing with private industry'

Cameron Murray, pictured, is one of the residents of Grande Prairie's tent city, which is located between a homeless shelter and city hall. (Supplied by Cameron Murray)

Members of Grande Prairie's land development and housing industry aren't happy with the city's affordable housing strategy. 

The city released a draft of its ten-year affordable housing strategy in August. The plan would see the development of 359 new affordable housing units and the creation of a municipal housing corporation. 

In a letter sent to the mayor and council last week, representatives from Grande Prairie development and housing industry said they are concerned the city — particularly with the creation of its own community housing company — will start to compete with private industry for residential housing projects.

"While industry fully supports the city assisting with low-income or social housing, there needs to be restrictions on the city competing with private industry," the letter states. 

City moving forward

On Tuesday, the city's infrastructure and protective services committee voted to move forward with the development of its own housing corporation, despite the concerns raised.  

In an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday, Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given said the corporation would be "another tool in the toolbox" to help meet the city's housing challenges.

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given said the proposed corporation would be "another tool in the toolbox" to help the city's housing challenges. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

"Even though single-family homes are actually very reasonably priced in Grande Prairie, there are some people who can't afford that either," Given said. 

"These are the types of people who are being left behind by the general market approach. And the city, through a vehicle like a housing corporation has the ability to meet that demand by not being driven by as much of a profit motive and being able to take a long-term view of return on investment."

The City of Grande Prairie's affordable housing plans are under fire from local industry. Find out why the mayor says they're going ahead with a city housing corporation, anyway. 6:22

Housing challenges

The city of nearly 70,000 people currently has 766 non-market units available, with about 3,400 households in need of housing support, Given said. 

Last month, the city started providing temporary services for a tent city that's popped up near city hall.  

Makayla Marcotte, a spokesperson for Odyssey House, an organization that helps women and children who have become homeless as a result of domestic violence, said she believes the city's housing corporation could help address the city's housing issues by streamlining the process for getting people into their own homes.

Makayla Marcotte, a spokesperson for Odyssey House, said she thinks a housing corporation could help address the city's housing issues (Submitted by Makayla Marcotte)

The shelter supported more than 200 women and 160 children in the last year, but has had to turn away hundreds more, Marcotte said.

"And we are turning people away because we're full. And the reason we're full is because we have women who are using our services at an increased length of stay partially due to the housing crisis," she said. 

"So we have individuals who are experiencing homelessness at a heavy rate. And I think that the city recognizes that and they're just trying to help the community fill that need."

Ultimate approval of the corporation and the entire strategy will be up to city council. 

Given said the city will continue to work with industry, and hopes to have industry members on the proposed housing corporation's board. 

If approved, the corporation likely wouldn't be initiated until next year — subject to the city's budget decisions — and construction on the new affordable housing units, at a ballpark cost of $45-108 million, likely wouldn't start until 2021.

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is an associate producer and reporter at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or on Twitter @TandiwayK (https://twitter.com/TandiwayK).