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Red Deer mayor anticipates more housing support from both levels of government

He left an ABmunis conference in Edmonton feeling more hopeful
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston hopes to get more federal and provincial support for local supportive housing projects. (Photo by Lana Michelin/Advocate staff) p

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston wants to know why less than three per cent of all housing money allocated by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation goes to Western Canada.

Supportive transitional housing — or lack there of — was a major topic of collective concern among various Alberta mayors last week at the Alberta Municipalities (ABmunis) Convention in Edmonton.

Johnston left the 1,000 delegate conference feeling frustrated and thinking “there have to be discussions at the federal level” about why the CMHC isn’t allocating housing funds fairly across the country.

Whatever funding model is being used, it needs to be restructured, added the mayor who’s planning to meet with Red Deer-area Conservative Party MPs to ask that they press the federal Liberal government for more equity in housing support.

On a brighter note, Johnston now feels more positive that the Alberta government will step up as a financial partner in the building of more local transitional supportive housing projects if the city is also willing to pony up some grants.

Since Red Deer’s homelessness problems would be lessened greatly with more local supportive housing, the city stands behind a private developer’s proposal to build 80 new units. (A 2019 community needs study identified this city was short of 77 spaces for people in need of supportive housing).

The City of Red Deer has requested grant money from a federal housing program. If approved, the municipality would use these funds to help finance this and other private housing developments, said Johnston. In turn, he believes the province would match these funds and help the project get off the ground.

Johnston feels the City of Red Deer is now “testing the resolve” of the federal government’s statement that housing is its No. 1 priority, through this grant application.

Alberta municipal leaders also aired concerns at the Edmonton conference about a new provincial funding formula that would leave them with almost 30 per cent less for sustaining municipal infrastructure, such as roads and buildings.

“We have anticipated those reductions and budgeted for that,” said the mayor, but that doesn’t mean the lower funding amount will be enough to adequately sustain municipal infrastructure.

Johnston said Premier Danielle Smith has assured him and others that she will come up with a “creative approach” to sharing a greater share of provincial revenues with municipalities — so they are waiting to hear more.