Cutting Housing Society Funding is Very Disappointing

A Letter to the Gazette

City Council’s funding cut of almost 10 per cent to the St. Albert Housing Society is extremely disappointing and perplexing. With more residents being served and a growing need for more help, not less, council’s decision makes no sense at all.

Adding insult to injury is that noone had the courtesy to notify us at the society of the last minute motion to reduce funding. There were no questions, comments or indications of a funding reduction when the initial recommendation was presented on Nov. 10. Springing a surprise funding cut to a community service “partner” the day before budget deliberations is notably unusual and inconceivable.

With new partnerships, more people being helped, the ability to bring in an international educator to speak in our community, and more supporters than ever, the funding cut is like a strap to the hand for a job well done. During council debate, “value for dollar” was quoted as one reason for the funding cutback. It would be useful to know what formula was used, and whether the same criteria was applied in evaluating all projects and business cases during the budget.

It was mentioned the society needed to provide a “solid business case.” Did all councillors actually read the business case? Judging from the comments it appears doubtful since much has progressed in the last year alone, including a redesign of the delivery model to help more people.

Furthermore, it was stated that the society’s successful fundraising efforts are reason to reduce funding. This defies all logic. It is a form of punishment handed out for achievement. What a message to send. Diversity in financial support, from the provincial government, the business sector and citizens, typically demonstrates to a municipal funder the worthiness of continued support, not the opposite. Our improved fundraising is a testament to our efforts yielding better results, or value for dollar, on the Society’s shoestring budget.

The St. Albert Housing Society is a small service agency, and we do not pretend to be the only housing solution in St. Albert. With so few housing options and supports, the housing society plays a specific and indispensable role in helping people where other programs do not.

Government grants provide the society modest operational funds necessary to work with program participants, and pursue options to expand affordable housing. Donations fuel the support for those who need rental assistance.

The housing society has a longstanding strategy to reserve rental income from its affordable apartments to purchase more rental properties in the future. To draw on this reserve fund for operations would create a situation whereby future housing purchases would be unattainable. It is the community that will lose if this is the path council takes us down.

In comparing other jurisdictions, we can’t help but remark how it is extremely odd for a municipal council to not want to be fully supportive of all local housing initiatives. Councillors need to move away from thinking it is doing the housing society some type of favour, and realize they are providing for the community.

At a time when demand is increasing, this is not the year to penny pinch on housing assistance. Nearly all social agencies received a budget increase this year, and we find it unfortunate that funding to enable housing supports, of all things, is being reduced. For this council it seems the right thing to do is to do less.

Unlike other municipalities, most on this council believe the housing society should be self-funding. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the realities in the community, and displays a lack of urgent interest in tackling the affordable housing crisis as a genuine and motivated community partner.

Our elected officials are not walking the talk. They all say they support affordable housing, especially at election time. Actions speak louder than words. A $10,000 cut has a negligible effect on the tax rate. Funding should be restored, if not increased.

St. Albert Housing Society, Board of Directors: G. Mitchell, Board Chair; M. Garrett, Vice-Chair; L. Vilks, Treasurer; M. Langman, Secretary; D. Caputo, Director; C. Dumont, Director; M. Parker, Director; D. McGreer, Director; R. Sweet, Director.

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(Source: St. Albert Gazette. December 16, 2015.)