Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Survey
Safe, stable housing is a fundamental human need. We can’t adequately address work, education, income and social cohesion without housing. When I’m out in the community, most people are supportive of increased access to affordable housing and supported living arrangements in order to address homelessness and precarious housing. There is a broad understanding that our communities are more sustainable and resilient when we take care of each other and when we include the full diversity of our City.
There is a significant need in Edmonton for more diverse market housing as well as more affordable housing, subsidies and permanent supportive housing. Our inclusionary zoning practices are not currently addressing the need for non-market housing across the city. We need to build this housing as a part of larger multi-family development, especially in the context of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) given that it is now a focus for the City. Too often we are seeing developers make modest payments to the City (relative to their profit) and forgo the investment in actual housing. The City can use these funds to build or purchase units, but it is not a robust system and doesn’t seem to be translating into the housing we need. If we bring together the diverse interests involved in meaningful conversation, I think we could come up with better solutions.
We also need to be building more diverse options so that larger families can be better accommodated and smaller families, couples and singles can also access housing. The imbalances, in what is available and who can qualify (due to limited resources, rather than need), create division in the community. For a generation, we have ignored this fundamental issue, increasing stigma and costs related to the justice system and our health system. This has started to change under the current Council and with both the federal government and provincial government starting to invest again in housing, we have an opportunity to address this need through cross-jurisdictional collaboration and to take more comprehensive action. This is urgent given the gaps that already exist and the increasing social, economic and environmental pressures we are facing as a society.
One of my areas of interest is around how we design buildings and neighbourhoods and the impact this has on our mental and physical health and social cohesion. As we make essential investments in housing we need to also insist that it is integrated effectively into our communities, that design for connection is taken into account and that we invest in energy efficiency and sustainable building practices in order to bring down long term costs and prepare for 2050. A major barrier to inclusionary zoning is a result of design practices (often driven by cost) that exacerbates social stratification. We must do this better and we can.
I was community co-chair of the City of Edmonton’s Council Initiative on Public Engagement for the last two years and a member of the Community Leadership working group. One of our key questions is how to, not only reach more diverse populations, but also how to support and enhance the existing capacity in often overlooked communities to engage more fully in decision making. Bringing diverse groups together in meaningful conversation can often mitigate polarized positions and create better solutions. This work has resulted in a new policy and framework and is slowly being built out across the organization. It is still in early stages but the potential is there for much deeper conversations across more diverse perspectives. There is no question the City needs to more effectively engage citizens who don’t own property, who are in precarious housing, or who are homeless, and do so on an equal footing as those who own their homes. Currently, it is quite unbalanced and leads to decisions that don’t take the lived experience and expertise of many community members into account. Fundamentally, the most creative and robust solutions are rooted in our communities.