To get more tenants into the largely empty Asooahum Crossing affordable housing complex, Red Deer city council was asked to provide $50,000 in rent subsidies for aboriginal families.
Councillors were told the affordable housing units are unaffordable to many people who want to move in.
Part of the problem lies in timing, said Lianne Hazell, administrative director of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society.
She explained that Asooahum Crossing took six months longer to complete than expected. By the time its doors opened in June, many of the tenants who’d been waiting to get into the complex had to find other living accommodations and are now locked into one-year leases.
As a result, Asooahum Crossing has been largely empty. Out of 16 units, only six have tenants, added Hazell.
Eight people have since expressed interest in moving into the sober-living apartments. But many of these people have been paying up to 70 per cent of their incomes on housing — which means they have accumulated a lot of debt. Presently, they are unable to afford the rent at Asooahum without a subsidy, council heard.
Outi Kite, housing administrator of the Red Deer Housing Authority, said the authority’s application process allocates subsidies based on a points system, which means the families waiting to get into the Asooahum complex can‘t necessarily be prioritized for help.
Hazell is looking into whether provincial or federal funding can be obtained for the housing subsidies. In the meantime, she asked city council for a one-time grant to subsidize the rents of 12 families for a year. This will allow more tenants into the suites, allowing Asooahum to cover its mortgage payments.
She believes the one year of subsidized rents will allow these tenants to get on their feet, financially, and come up with a plan for how they will be able to afford to stay in the suites in future.
The city’s director of community services, Sarah Cockerill confirmed that $50,000 has been left over from a now cancelled housing fund, in case city council wanted to approve the request.
But several councillors, including Lawrence Lee, felt this is, yet again, a situation in which municipal funding is being sought for an area under provincial/federal jurisdiction. Lee said the city should be the last resort for these kinds of requests.
Council opted to table the request for up to four weeks to investigate whether some provincial funding can be found. Hazell admitted she is “a bit disappointed” that potential tenants have to wait longer, but is heartened that council didn’t say “no.”