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City looks to assist applicants for federal social housing grant

The City of Lethbridge is taking steps to help service providers be successful in getting federal grants for affordable and social housing. After hearing a presentation from Andrew Malcolm, urban revitalization manager, city council carried several recommendations intended to increase the success rate of Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Rapid Housing Initiative funds in the city.

The initiative will see $1.5 billion in federal grants spread through the country in the next two years. In the last two rounds of funding, $2.5 billion was used to create 10,000 new affordable and social housing units across the country. Of these, 1,268 were in Alberta, but none were in Lethbridge, Malcolm said.

“Several organizations in Lethbridge applied but were not successful. It is in following up with these applicants with the CMHC and other municipalities that we have come to understand why the City of Lethbridge, or what the City of Lethbridge could do better to support these applications in their probability of success,” he said. “The overarching theme is that municipalities and applicants should focus on the quality of projects, not the quantity of projects.”

Successful applicants focused on four qualities: speed of the project, community need, municipal support and rental subsidies.

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The city is looking to address these by prioritizing social development proposals and waiving administrative fees. It is also looking at creating a $50,000 municipal grant to assist with pre-development expenses for groups applying for the grants.

“The largest portion of a project’s pre development expense and the risk comes in securing land. Often provincial and federal grants will require proof of ownership or a long term lease in order to even be considered,” Malcolm said. “This puts an applicant who really only has one purpose or use for their land in a precarious situation — potentially investing over a million dollars to secure land that their one purpose could be appealed in the very next step. This would leave them holding expensive land, tied up capital, without anything to do with it.”

Coun. Rajko Dodic brought forward an amendment to the motion to instruct city administration to look into budget initiatives for longer term resources and support. Coun. Belinda Crowson said the decision from council was important to help service providers, who are mostly non profit, to be successful in rapid housing grants. 

“This is not something that is designed to solve our housing problems. It’s not designed to be the long term solution for all housing,” she said. “This is brought on about the Rapid Housing Initiative that is by the federal government and it is our response to why in the last two intakes, none of them came to Lethbridge and administration was asked to go look at what other municipalities did and bring back best case scenarios.”

The staff report to council for its Sept. 13 meeting pointed out the CMHC needs to see greater municipal support for its applications, which can reduce the risk of projects. This includes reducing restrictions, providing pre-development capital and assisting in the purchase and identification of land.

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