City of Lacombe renews commitment to affordable housing

The City of Lacombe recognizes the fundamental need for decent for affordable and stable housing and is renewing its commitment to increase the range of housing choices available to residents.

The City’s Affordable Housing Steering Committee, an advisory body to city council, recently commissioned a housing needs assessment to update Lacombe’s Affordable Housing Strategy, to plan for ways to use the $430,000 in affordable housing grant funding held by the city.

The needs assessment identified issues, such as affordability, aging in Lacombe, and people living in vulnerable situations. The city will now develop and prioritize strategies to address them.

In Canada, housing is generally considered to be affordable when people spend no more than 30 per cent of their gross income on housing-related costs. The report showed that housing affordability is an ongoing challenge in Lacombe, both in the rental and ownership markets.

Almost 35 per cent of local renters are paying more than 30 per cent of their household incomes on rent, as are approximately 13 per cent of homeowners. For some potential homeowners, the situation is worsened by declining affordability, because the city has few housing options available under $300,000 and current prices for new and infill lot developments are viewed as too high for starter homes.

The city also aims to develop effective relationships with private industry and government to increase the supply and diversity of affordable housing in Lacombe.

“Along with a steady municipal funding commitment, we want to leverage existing grant funding with matching contributions from like-minded partners for future affordable housing projects,” said Outi Kite, affordable housing steering committee chair.

“The grant is made up of both provincial and municipal funds, and accessing it is dependent on aligning development proposals with the identified goals and objectives in the housing strategy.”

The city also needs to promote the growth of rental units, including a range of properties designated for subsidies to increase affordability for low-income residents and seniors.

“Construction of new rental stock creates a more competitive market environment, which can increase affordability for renters,” said Kite.

“It is important to note that the city will not be a direct housing supplier, rather its resources will help create an environment that allows the private or non-profit sectors to innovate and build affordably,” said Deborah Juch, the city’s director of community services.

According to the Affordable Housing Strategy, Lacombe continues to be defined by its aging population. Over 900 households in the city are owned by people 65 years of age or older, and 150 of these are owned by people over the age of 85. Since the largest age group is over 65, the chance to age in place is a high priority.

“We need options to support our seniors to age in their current homes, or help them secure stable alternate housing so that we can keep these citizens in the community,” said Juch.

For aging homeowners, affordability is a major factor in finding an alternate housing option, as many are sustaining themselves on retirement savings and pensions given their relatively low monthly household expenses. Moving to a different location that requires rent, condo or assisted-living fees on top of utilities and living expenses could prove to be challenging.

“The city’s goal is to significantly expand senior’s housing options to deliver on our commitment to aging in place,” said Community Economic Development Manager Guy Lapointe.

“The city has already facilitated private developments like Charis Senior’s Village, and hopes to advance co-living arrangements such as home-sharing and rental subsidy programs for low-income seniors.”

Other than for seniors, housing vulnerability exists for people on limited incomes, those suffering from addictions, mental and physical health conditions, and those isolated from social connection.

For the city, addressing the needs of the most vulnerable populations requires both stable housing and social supports.

“There is no one silver bullet that will address the housing challenges for vulnerable people,” said Lapointe. “We need multiple approaches and solutions are required to manage these complex needs.”

Efforts in one area can result in many improvements in other areas. For example, the development of affordable housing options for independent seniors may tip the balance toward additional housing appealing to young families and professionals. Similarly, investment in affordable rental units may shift vacancy rates and signal landlords to lower rents or to improve their properties.

The next step for the committee is to request expressions of interest from all sectors asking partnering concepts that align with the identified goals and actions in the Affordable Housing Strategy.

The tentative deadline for submissions is Feb. 29, 2020.

The committee will then evaluate proposals and invite those selected to present full concepts to the committee for final selection, which will be presented to city council for approval in April 2020.

-City of Lacombe

Paul Brennan photo