About that affordable housing project…

It’s probably fair to say the Lakeside Leader isn’t the only one wondering what’s going on with the affordable housing project at the Northern Star Hotel.

All signs are it has been going nowhere, for quite some time.

Nobody is saying anything official about it. The last thing we heard from the government is that it was ‘under review.’ The last thing we heard from the ownership group of the hotel was that the government had changed its mind about something, which was holding up the completion of the project. It would definitely be resuming and be completed, we were told. Both of those comments are from back in 2023.

It’s worth remembering that the Slave Lake Regional Housing Authority once had control of $4.5 million of provincial government funds to put towards new affordable housing units. Various plans came and went; but the basic idea was to replace some of the aging single-family units in the northwest part of town with some sort of multi-family complex. Figuring out how to make it work within the budget was tough, according to what we heard in town and M.D. council reports from the housing authority board.

Then along came the Jason Kenney government with a new idea. This was to put the $4.5 million up for proposals from the private sector.

The new owners of the former Northwest Inn – which had been sitting empty for the past few years – had an idea. It was to convert the entire north wing of the hotel into affordable housing units. They’d use the government cash, kick in an agreed-upon amount of their own, and be in business.

Okay, said the government, and a deal was struck. Work commenced, but as noted, ground to a halt at some point.

What happened?

Nobody is saying, and if it’s true there’s a lawsuit going on, likely no one will until it’s settled.

But the most likely scenario, it seems, is that the hotel owners realized they were going to lose money on the project, and keep losing it, and got cold feet.

We could be wrong about that, of course. But the indications are there.

Former Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman, for example, told us he couldn’t see any way to make it work, financially, without charging market rents. Which of course would defeat the ‘affordable’ purpose of building such housing in the first place.

Public-private partnerships on affordable housing might work on a large scale in bigger centres, Warman said. But he couldn’t see how, on the size of project that could be done for that $4.5 million in Slave Lake.

The PPP is fine where it works, he said, but couldn’t see how it could work in a Slave Lake context.

There seems to have been some wishful thinking involved in the Northern Star project – probably on both sides.

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