Nfld. & Labrador

Edmonton mixed-housing project could work in St. John's, says CEO

The CEO of Alberta's Capital Region Housing, which recently launched a project that mixes affordable and market-rate housing — and public and private funding — is from St. John's.

N.L. and Alberta face different housing challenges, says head of non-profit

Greg Dewling is the CEO of Capital Region Housing in Alberta, which built what is believed to be the first housing project in Canada with private funding for affordable housing. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Pine Creek Manor in Edmonton is an affordable housing model built with a private-public funding partnership — and the man behind the project thinks a similar model could work in St. John's.

But the head of a non-profit agency that provides shelter and support for seniors said the two provinces face different housing challenges.

Greg Dewling, CEO of Alberta's Capital Region Housing — Edmonton's main social and near-market housing provider — was raised in St. John's. He returned to his hometown Wednesday to take part in the city's affordable housing forum at Memorial University's Signal Hill campus.

Dewling and Capital Region Housing are behind the Pine Creek project, which he believes to be the first affordable housing model in Canada to be built with 50-50 private and public partnership funding.

"We recognize that we certainly couldn't do everything by ourselves. We went out to the private sector to see if there were partners that would work with us," Dewling said.

Of Pine Creek Manor's 174 units, 45 are affordable housing units subsidized by the development's profits, says Dewling. (Submitted by Pine Creek Manor)

"Effectively, we work with a private sector partner and take the surplus or profit we make on our side of the balance sheet. We take our profit and we'll say to a portion of the families that we help, 'OK, we're going to actually give you a subsidy to live there,' and reduce their rent."

Pine Creek's 174 units are a mix of market-rate and affordable housing options. The 45 affordable rent units are filled, with a monthly rent of $1,049 a month, subsidized by $350 per unit so the rent is kept under the average market rent of nearly $1,400, said Dewling.

He said 8,000 families are on waiting lists for homes in the province. Asked if Pine Creek's model could work in other parts of the country, Dewling said the most important element is having all parties involved working together for a common goal.

"Financing is a big part. Finding the right financing partner. Finding the right builder to work with," Dewling said.

If you're making $1,200 a month, it's impossible to pay $900 in rent.- Mohamed Abdallah

"This is new, bringing a non-profit and a for-profit together, you have to be able to work together. Finally, working with the municipality. Zoning, the land use, working with the community as well, [is] very important in order to have a successful project."

Dewling says a similar project could work in Newfoundland and Labrador, citing the province's ability to pull together in hard times.

"I think here in St. John's, where there's always a spirit of coming together … if we come together on these projects, we can actually do some special things for families that need affordable housing."

But the co-founder of a non-profit agency that provides shelter and support to seniors facing homelessness says Newfoundland and Labrador's housing problems are different.

Mohamed Abdallah, with Connections for Seniors, said Dewling's plan involves four- and five-room spaces for families, while Newfoundland and Labrador needs spaces more suited for an aging population.

Mohamed Abdallah, co-founder of Connections for Seniors, says Newfoundland and Labrador's demographics make its housing needs different from Alberta's. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

"Once you have your own home, once you're settled, you can start to deal with other things," Abdallah said. "But if the cost of housing is high, and it's increasing, we need to have the option of affordable housing.

"If you're making $1,200 a month, it's impossible to pay $900 in rent."

While Abdallah argues most private sector companies are primarily concerned with company growth, Dewling said some companies have a social conscience that can serve as an asset in addressing affordable housing.

"There's no silver bullet. There's no one way to fix the challenge of affordable housing," Dewling said.

"We have to do different things. What we've been doing recently in Edmonton is doing different types of projects. Big projects, small projects … taking good projects, and we're able to replicate them and grow them."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Alex Kennedy works in St. John's for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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