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More affordable housing a top concern for Red Deer mayor

Red Deer residents can expect an update on the permanent shelter in the new year
Mayor Ken Johnston discussed disappointments and successes for Red Deer in 2023 during his year-end interview. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)

Mayor Ken Johnston is focused on affordable housing for Red Deer and says he’s fed up with Ottawa’s silence when it comes to funding.

“I can’t even get a meeting with the (federal) housing minister. I’ve written three letters to the housing minister in 2023. I haven’t even got a response, or even acknowledging those letters,” said Johnston during his annual year-end interview with local media.

“I’m tired, frankly, of railing on them.”

Two housing proposals have been unsuccessful accessing federal funding, including one from Shining Mountains Living Community Services.

He said the federal government hasn’t approved of any projects west of Winnipeg for small or medium-sized cities.

“My rant against the federal government isn’t a Red Deer rant. It’s a Western Canada rant.”

So to kick start affordable housing prospects in the city, Johnston recently started a community fundraising effort to raise $1 million.

Similar to 100+ Women Who Care Red Deer which raises money from members for community projects, he wants to find 100 citizens to contribute $10,000 each towards an affordable housing project.

Three people have already committed money so now he’s looking for 97 more to pledge their support.

He said his fundraising effort is brand new and it is his own initiative as a private citizen. Neither the city, nor city council, is involved. But if the money can be raised by the community, the city could use it to leverage provincial and federal funding.

“The community needs to be involved if things are going to really happen. The federal reality is what it is. It’s a mess frankly. But there still is some hope there that we can achieve what we want to.”


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Johnston said the delay in building a permanent homeless shelter was another disappointment in 2023.

“This is a file that I tuck under my arm every day and I bring it to work, and I bring it home every day. I put it on my dresser. When I wake up, I pick it up from my dresser and bring it back to work.”

In the summer the province accepted the city’s latest site recommendation, but the location has not been revealed since the city is still in negotiations with the private landowner.

A couple months ago the mayor expected to make a public announcement before the end December, but it will take a little more time.

“Early in the new year is when we’d be approaching the community with a game plan for 2024. We’re hoping to go public with as much as we can.”

When it comes to improving health care, the mayor was optimistic about the province’s plans to restructure the health care system and movement on the $1.8 billion expansion for Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

On Monday, city council will discuss rezoning land to make way for the project.

“It’s a tangible sign that the hospital is coming into view.”

In November, the province announced plans to streamline Alberta Health Services and create different organizations to oversee acute care, primary care, continuing care, and mental health.

Johnston said change often comes about when a system doesn’t work anymore. Red Deer hospital staff have wanted more say to address local concerns and greater attention on the delivery of primary health services and preventative care will help people be more successful improving their own health.


Airport terminal expansion well underway

The mayor is also encouraged that Capstone is finally starting “to get some roots” with an upcoming housing project and other developments.

“I continue to believe in Capstone. I believe the hospital project itself will drive Capstone.”

He said its potential has not been realized and the modifications to development guidelines in Capstone have been a catalyst for interest in the best piece of property in Central Alberta with its waterfront and connectivity.

Johnston said the annexation of 533 acres north of the city will transform Red Deer over the next 10 years. A total of 580 business licences were approved in 2023, including 74 in the downtown.

“My sense is we’re builidng our community. Our community is jelling and coming together through conversations being had that weren’t being had a couple of years ago.”

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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