The Grande Spirit Foundation (GSF) says it would like to begin constructing affordable housing in the Smith neighbourhood in Grande Prairie as soon as possible.

GSF is looking to build two buildings with 160 units on the Smith lands. 

“There are 558 approved applicants on our waiting list for some type of affordable housing,” said Judy Kokotilo-Bekkerus, GSF chair.

Family housing make up 373 of the applicants, while 332 of the family applicants are single parents, and 185 are seniors, she noted. 

The applications come from across the region, but 95 per cent reside in the city, said Kokotilo-Bekkerus, who is also a Beaverlodge town councillor.

The number of applications has risen since 2020, said Steve Madden, GSF chief administrative officer. He said the waiting list in December 2020 had approximately 400 applications. 

Construction cannot begin in Smith until the city confirms the land is dedicated to GSF. However, GSF says if the land is confirmed, it could start to work with P3 (public-private partnership) partners to begin planning. 

In March, Madden wrote to the city in a letter, “there are a number of interested parties who have approached GSF to work on a mixed market affordable housing development on the Smith land.”

The Smith land was being considered for a future recreational site, but council ultimately decided on the Avondale area. 

GSF came to city council as a delegation to express its continuing interest in the Smith lands.

At the time, Smith residents spoke against the proposed recreational facility and stated they rather see housing or multi-family housing in the neighbourhood. 

Still, Mayor Jackie Clayton is not confident the Smith lands are the right spot for GSF.

“I think that Smith is a great multifamily site; I don’t think it’s a great senior site,” said the mayor.

She said the proximity of grocery stores and other amenities would better serve seniors in another location. 

On March 28, at the Invest GP committee meeting, city administration was directed to bring five potential locations for housing projects in the city.

The mayor said she believes there will be “many conversations” on multi-family and additional residential in the coming months. 

Coun. Grant Berg asked GSF if the Smith lands were the first choice for GSF as a location. 

Madden said GSF follows the lead of councils, and the city has the internal resources to determine where the housing is needed and the best locations. 

It has been a long wait for GSF to find a builder in Smith. 

Kokotilo-Bekkerus said the reason GSF hasn’t taken action on the land at this time is that although GSF had the allocation of the land, it didn’t have a commitment to the land from the city.

“Municipalities generally provide the land to GSF with utilities already installed; the Smith lands did not have utilities,” she said.

She said many investors lost interest after learning the land was unserviced. 

“Servicing a piece of land is really costly, so all of a sudden, even if the city gave the land and then our project included servicing it and the building, it was out of reach from a capital perspective,” said Kokotilo-Bekkerus. 

In 2021, the city installed services there.

“Now that the land is serviced, developers want to build on the site,” said Kokotilo-Bekkerus. 

She said the city has assured her there will be land for housing, even if it’s not in Smith.

“We’re much closer than we ever were before,” she said.

The housing, once completed, could accommodate up to 300 people, but the P3 partnership would determine the number of affordable, social, and market units, said Kokotilo-Bekkerus.

Affordable housing is 25 per cent below market, and social housing has people only pay 30 per cent of their income for rent; the province subsidizes the remainder. 

Current projects 

GSF is currently building a 24-unit apartment building in Spirit River. Other communities are interested in row housing. 

“One of the reasons why we are quite sought after is if people are looking to build large projects and we become a partner, then we qualify for a CMHC interest rate that is lower,” said Kokotilo-Bekkerus.

She noted that other surrounding municipalities are providing lands and funds to GSF to ensure social and affordable housing is available, including Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, and Spirit River. 

“It’s really hard to raise capital, and I would like to see the province become more involved with cash,” said Kokotilo-Bekkerus.

Mayor Clayton echoed the sentiments noting mid-size cities like Grande Prairie fill a void in the province. 

“We can’t continue to fund big cities only in housing projects. 

“There needs to be consideration given from the provincial government in regards to supporting midsize cities and, in particular, the City of Grande Prairie in our housing needs.”

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 04, 2023 at 10:07

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta
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