Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 13, 2006
Make housing affordable for all Albertans
While Alberta's economy is booming at record rates, most residents have seen little direct benefit of the boom. Many types of skilled tradespeople, of course, can virtually name their own price or, if you're a developer or a person who owns land up for development, you may well see extra money. Many people who had no work - or only sporadic work - have found a decent steady income because of the boom.
But for many Albertans, economic growth has mostly meant higher property taxes, more vehicles on the roads and higher housing costs.
It is the last phenomenon that is of greatest concern. Housing is a necessity of life and Alberta's housing stock is not growing fast enough to meet the burgeoning needs. Homelessness is on the increase.
As well, people on low incomes are being squeezed as some landlords raise rents to what the market will bear. Families looking to buy a first home have seen housing prices skyrocket to what is well beyond what they can afford. In Edmonton, the average single family home sold for $326,292 in October, up more than $100,000 from record high prices at the same time last year. In Calgary the average price in October was higher still - $371,011.
People's housing needs range from emergency shelter to many types of supported housing to low-income rental units. There is an immediate need for 6,000 low-income affordable housing units in Edmonton. Mayor Stephen Mandel has made the provision of such housing a priority but the main funding needs to come from provincial and federal governments.
In no small part, the current situation is due to years of neglect. Alberta's economy has been growing rapidly for 10 years, but the provincial government has paid scant attention to the social dislocation that has accompanied the rapid growth. It has failed to fund low-income housing and those people are now being squeezed by the combination of escalating prices and the housing shortage.
It should be no surprise then that homelessness is on the rise. Here, the government has stepped in to provide shelter to many of the large number of people sleeping on the streets. This is a very visible and disconcerting problem to the wider population.
Many others are the hidden homeless. They are "couch surfing" - sleeping in the living rooms of their friends and relatives until they can find permanent housing of their own. Their very hiddenness may diminish the size of the problem in the eyes of the public.
Homelessness is the final end of other systems that are not meeting the needs of the people - particularly community supports for the mentally ill and the lack of affordable housing. It can also be the result of poor choices people have made in their lives. But there are few places people can go to rectify those choices, to get help in turning their lives around.
The boom has been a good thing for some people. But the Alberta government needs to get enough revenue from the exploitation of resources owned by the people of this province to ensure the needs of all people are met - both now and in the future. It must be asked whether Alberta's royalty rates are high enough.
For Alberta to be a good society -as opposed to a merely wealthy one - it needs to ensure that the needs of the most disadvantaged people are being met and that opportunities are being opened for them. We will be judged on how we treat the least of our brothers and sisters. This is not entirely the responsibility of government. But government must play a leading role, both in emphasizing priorities and especially in funding those priorities.
One major priority for our government must be to ensure that affordable housing is available for all Albertans. At present, that need is not being met.
- Glen Argan
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