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Empty Red Deer hotels could be purchased to create more affordable housing

City and its housing partners will be applying for a new federal program to reduce homelessness
The City of Red Deer will be talking with its community partners about how to best apply for part of $1 billion in federal money that is being provided to help deal with homelessness across the country during the pandemic. (Advocate file photo)

City of Red Deer officials will be approaching their community partners to see if empty hotels can be purchased with federal dollars to create more affordable housing.

Ryan Veldkamp, social planning supervisor for the city, said all avenues are being explored since the federal government announced $1 billion will be provided to create rapid housing programs across Canada.

Among the options the city and its community partners (Red Deer Housing Authority and Bridges Community Living) will consider are buying up hotels that are for sale and renovating them into suites.

Since the federal Liberals want to create 3,000 new affordable housing units across Canada within the next six months — all funds must be spent by March 31 — the fast turn-around precludes building from scratch, Veldkamp added.

Vast tent cities have not arisen in Red Deer as they have in Edmonton and Victoria, but this city still has large gaps in accessible housing.

Veldkamp said a 2019 community housing plan done by an ad-hoc committee found that this city is short some 2,300 affordable housing units.

This includes 1,300 “deep subsidy” units (1,170 of them for single people and the rest for families) and 1,000 units that would rent for 10 per cent below market rates.

To try to stop the pandemic from exacerbating homelessness in Red Deer, the city has put more money into prevention.

Veldkamp said programs available through the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre and Bredon Centre can now assist 240 families with one-time rental arrears, emergency housing, first month’s down payment and limited furniture items.

This compares to only 160 families before the pandemic hit last spring.

Like many communities, the City of Red Deer plans to approach community partners to see if there’s interest in turning some unused hotel space into affordable housing, said Veldkamp.

The hotel/motel occupancy rate in Red Deer in April was 9.5 per cent, according to an Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association survey. This is much lower than in Edmonton or Calgary, indicating this city was over-allocated with hotel spaces, even before the pandemic.

Red Deer’s Black Knight Inn is in receivership, while half of the Baymont Inn is being turned by its owners into monthly rental suites that would sell at market rates.

City officials are waiting to hear more details about the federal program, which is open to municipalities, provinces, territories, Indigenous governing bodies and agencies, as well as non-profit organizations. But Veldkamp said it appears promising.

“We are definitely exploring to see how we can meet the community objectives and identified need, and how Red Deer might take advantage of this additional funding for affordable housing.”