By Kenyon Stronski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Published Oct 29, 2021
Affordable housing has been a hot topic for the Town of Taber over the past few years.
Tim Janzen, CAO at the Taber and District Housing Foundation (TDHF) came to the Sept. 27 Taber town council meeting to discuss the progress on their affordable housing project.
The TDHF have been working on a new project known as Cherry and Main Affordable Housing, which is designed to help accommodate housing for a lone person.
“We want to provide housing for one person households that require housing needs. Generally, those were people identified in our research that are a working poor, who are generally single people that we currently don’t have housing for as we only have two bedrooms designed for small families. We want to have 20 per cent of the units accessible and we want it to be sited where people can walk. Transport is probably the second biggest reason for spending besides housing and so we don’t want people to choose between car payments and food or medicine,” noted Janzen.
The TDHF wants to work with the town’s Economic Development Department and is aiming to have a self-sufficient concept. In the current plan, there will be 32 units between studio and two bedroom alongside 2,500 feet of commercial space.
“While this will house people paying less than-than-market rent, it does not need to be a less building,” commented Janzen. “We can design it nicely and have people live there that may need support. Twenty per cent of the units are handicap accessible. We are looking at a mixed market where some are slightly discounted while other are deeply discounted.”
Jansen mentioned they are at the point where they are just about ready to make applications for funding. Twenty-one of the apartments will be labeled as affordable while 11 will be market. They wish to make it out of durable and low-maintenance items and are also looking at a potential net-zero energy efficiency.
“We had talked about modular design, but our findings have been that there’s probably a premium because a lot of companies don’t offer that method, but i’d could definitely reduce the build time.”
Jansen noted the cost range presented to council was large because the design is not very defined. As well there would be additional cost if they were to aim for net-zero efficiency.
“Minister (Josephine) Pon (Seniors and Housing) was in town a couple months ago and allowed us to sit in on a meeting with a number of the senior organizations and that made it abundantly clear they’re interested in a P3 format — investment from a local investor, municipality or a charitable organization. My major ask is if the Town of Taber would have the capacity and be willing to write a debenture on behalf of the TDHF for our affordable housing project. We could get a forgivable loan of 40 per cent while the Alberta government would provide 30 per cent.”
With the Alberta governments contribution and a forgivable loan, there would still be a remainder of $1.8 million or $2.7 million for the debenture financing.
“We can pay that off, this will just finalize the project,” said Janzen.
Janzen added the proposal has also been made to the M.D. of Taber.
“Our hope is that this would be a community project. You have people that work for you that have much more experience than I do. We’re trying to prove a form of housing that doesn’t exist currently, but is also in conjunction with the overall housing plan.”
Janzen stated that if unable to get a debenture, they would have a stopping point for the time being and may have to ask for dollars.
“All of this makes our proposal more feasible. The only thing that would stop us would be the lack of debenture financing.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas then made the first observation, “We could help with the parking and installation of services along with waivers for fees and whatnot, and I think we could go that way without going the debenture route. Perhaps that could be the town’s commitment. To me, that would be an option and would be my take. I think as a council, we need to get behind this here — I ran into an individual who doesn’t have a place to live and is surfing around. There is a direct need for people in this community because we require seasonal workers and we will see more and more of this all the time as we grow in the agri-business. This is a good, solid project for these individuals.”
“I think this is a very worthwhile project for al to of the reasons Councillor Strojwas alluded to. I agree if we can help in-kind I would be in favour as well,” added Coun. Carly Firth.
“We’ve been hoping for projects like this for a while,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “And it would be ideal if we could do something so we have to be careful what we say we’re going to do. I’m a little concerned about the net zero aspect of it. It costs more to go net zero then what you’ll get.”
Coun. Garth Bekkering then added how the town is approaching their debt-servicing limit.
“I think your tenacity is bound to pay off Mr. Janzen. I echo what the councillors said, but it’s always about the money. We’re approaching a bet-servicing limit; I am in favour of land gifts, but not a debenture.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop stated how Minister Pon mentioned if the town could find the land it may be okay.
“And we’ve committed to that. I haven’t seen the provincial commitment and that concerns me, two-and-a-half years ago that was the offer.”
A motion was made for administration to investigate the municipalities debt limit, potential regional interest and other factors to determine if it’s a viable project with information to be brought back to a later council meeting for further discussion. The motion was carried unanimously.
This item is reprinted with permission from The Taber Times.
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