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St. John's native highlights affordable housing solutions in Edmonton

Pine Creek Manor is the first private-public sector partnership of its kind in Alberta to integrate affordable rental units into a market housing development.
Pine Creek Manor is the first private-public sector partnership of its kind in Alberta to integrate affordable rental units into a market housing development. - Contributed

Greg Dewling says the similar results can be achieved in St. John's if stakeholders get "back to working together"

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Taking questions from attendees of the City of St. John's Affordable Housing Forum, Greg Dewling was asked what opportunities he sees for affordable housing in Newfoundland and Labrador's capital city.

The CEO of Capital Region Housing Corp. (CRHC), a government agency responsible for keeping a roof over the heads of 9,000 families in Edmonton and the surrounding area, Dewling is originally from St. John's. Reflecting on the province's history, he said there are many examples of people coming together when facing challenges. In the case of affordable housing, he views that challenge no differently.

"Folks, we have to go back to those roots," he said Wednesday morning at Memorial University's Emera Innovation Exchange facility. "We have to go back to working together, whether it's a federal government, provincial, city, private, non-profit, public sector. The only way we're going to solve these challenges is if we do it together."

Dewling was the keynote speaker Wednesday, and highlighted how his organization recently worked with a private developer on a joint venture to build a 174-unit apartment complex with 35 affordable housing units. CRHC is a 50 per cent partner in the integrated project, the first of its kind for affordable housing in Alberta.

Dewling said work is happening to get CRHC to a point where it can operate without a subsidy for social housing and become self-sustaining. Initially, this was viewed as something that could be realized 20-25 years down the road. Working in collaboration with all levels of government, the target could be cut in half if momentum continues to build, Dewling said.

Pine Creek Manor is a collaboration with real estate development company RMS Group. An agreement was signed in July 2017 and the first of two buildings at the site opened in September 2018. The second building opened early this year.

"They were a partner that knew what they were doing, and we can leverage that expertise together," Dewling said.

The CRHC and RMS formed a limited partnership after Dewling and his colleagues convinced Alberta's then-NDP government of its value. The CRHC used its retained earnings to fund its share of the project.

"Why did we do this? We couldn't do it alone. We're sitting with 8,000 families on our waiting list. Remember, we can only place 50 of them a month. How long are you going to wait to get a home? It's going to be a few years."

The 35 units filled up relatively quickly, and the CRHC and RMS have since added 10 more affordable units to the site. It takes a portion of its profit from revenue generated at the site to fund the subsidy for the two-bedroom apartments, which cost $1,049 a month.

"Why did we do this? We couldn't do it alone." — Greg Dewling, CEO of Capital Region Housing Corp.

"We front-ended so that this is a fully marketable and financeable property," Dewling said.

The CRHC has 13 projects in the works, and it has been tasked with redeveloping 950 city-owned units into 4,400 units. Dewling stressed the importance of having a good collaborative relationship with a municipal partner, noting the CRHC managed to obtain a 60-year land lease for $1 from the City of Edmonton for an affordable housing project in the Londonderry area.

There are other ways the CRHC has looked to work with the private sector to its advantage. Within the CRHC, Dewling saw the potential to monetize its assets to generate income that could further its goal of expanding affordable housing options for the region. It now offers services to the private sector.

"Our projections for the next five years are showing an average of $1 million net income per year. You can do something with that," he said.

Twitter: @CBNAndrew


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