The $7 million of provincial funding allocated in 2017 for Red Deer’s permanent shelter will now cover only half of the project’s estimated costs, said city Coun. Lawrence Lee.
Much has changed in the last five years, including rising material costs due to the pandemic and rising inflation, noted Lee.
As a result, the City of Red Deer is reviewing cost-saving options, such as putting the shelter on city-owned land, as a way of providing a gift-in-kind, he added. But even some of the city land will require utilities servicing, which would still present a significant extra cost.
If, after a public consultation process that ends this week, the shelter ends up going on private land that must be purchased, there won’t be enough money for the construction phase, said Lee.
He believes this shortfall would have to be covered either by the city, through private sources, or — hopefully — with federal funds.
The Red Deer councillor, who represents the city at Federation of Canadian Municipalities meetings, returned from a national conference last weekend in Regina feeling optimistic that this mid-sized municipality will receive more federal dollars in the future for supportive housing — everything from shelters to transitional to low-income and affordable housing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a videotaped appearance at the conference. He promised to give more housing money directly to municipalities, based on proven need, rather than going through the provincial governments with these funds, as he has traditionally done.
Ottawa has typically channelled its housing support money through provincial governments so they would provide some matching grants. Provinces have added their share to this funding pool, but they have also targeted most of this money to larger centres, such as Calgary and Edmonton, said Lee.
Smaller municipalities have complained not enough money is leftover for their supportive housing needs.
“We have received a lot of (different) provincial grants, and for that we are grateful,” said Lee. But he doesn’t feel Red Deer gets an equitable share of housing support grants — whether because government officials feel big city demographics require more help, or there are more political reasons for this lopsided distribution.
He points out that Red Deer’s only transitional housing programs are run by non-profits, and are always at capacity. The same is true of the city’s supply of low-income and affordable housing.
Lee hopes the new federal government funding model, expected this summer, can help ease the financial shortfall expected with building the permanent shelter, as well as bridge gaps in local supportive housing services in the longer term.