Habitat unlikely to build on remaining Slave Lake lots anytime soon

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake has a housing shortage, with very few new builds in sight.

Habitat for Humanity could be doing something about that, but won’t be any time soon. It doesn’t have the funds or contractors to build.

After the 2011 Slave Lake wildfire, the Government of Alberta donated 10 lots in Slave Lake to Habitat. Of these, four have been built (the last one finished in 2019), two lots have been sold, and four lots are undeveloped.

“They’re at a stand-still,” says Ann-Marie Reddy, Habitat for Humanity Edmonton president and CEO.

Habitat has no plans to build these houses at the moment. In order for this to happen, at least two things would be needed.

The community would have to raise $300,000 to $400,000 per home, says Reddy. This is what it has been costing Habitat to build a home, even with working with contractors who give the charity a good deal.

The goal is to make “a top quality home,” adds Reddy, that will last. This will likely serve three to five families as a starter home.

The other challenge is finding a contractor willing and able to work in the community for a reasonable price.

When people think of Habitat for Humanity, one of the first images is of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his wife hammering nails on a volunteer build.

Across Canada, Habitat for Humanity has paused volunteer builds, says Reddy. “We don’t have the infrastructure anymore.”

This charity focuses on affordable home ownership.

“Our role is we’re mortgage providers,” says Reddy. “We’re there to get homeowners into affordable home-ownership.”

In the past, this involved often getting volunteers rolling up their sleeves and building. However, now they only hire building contractors.

A volunteer-build takes 18 months, says Reddy. Once a contractor starts, they can build a home in six months. Therefore, this is more cost-effective and efficient.

At the moment, Habitat for Humanity only has enough money to finish the builds it has already started. These are in the greater-Edmonton area and in Cold Lake.

Asked how the builds in Cold Lake came about, Reddy says, “a previous relationship with a builder, that’s how Cold Lake started.”

When this relationship started, Habitat had access to federal and provincial grant funding.

“Right now, we don’t have any future funding,” says Reddy.

Even if Habitat had the money, there’s no guarantee that a builder would be interested in building in Slave Lake at an affordable price.

“We have received quite a few calls from rural communities,” says Reddy, asking Habitat to build.

The Town of Slave Lake council is also working to try to get builders to come to Slave Lake. For example, last June it agreed to sell 10 lots in Fournier Place to a developer for $1 each provided it builds five homes ‘on spec.’

As of June 6, 2024, no building had started.

More recently a call for expressions of interest to develop the land west of Fournier place received one bid, which council didn’t like but wasn’t ready to reject out of hand.

If the land isn’t developed, Habitat may sell it.

The lots in Slave Lake are costing Habitat money through taxes etc., says Reddy. “There’s only so long you can hold on to that.”

In Cold Lake, Habitat is building single family homes. In the greater-Edmonton area, they build condos, duplexes, fourplexes, and townhouses.

“It’s (multi-unit buildings) a more cost effective way of building,” says Reddy.

Asked if building duplexes in Slave Lake would be an option, Reddy says, that would require discussions with town council.

More affordable rentals and affordable home-ownership are needs across Alberta, says Reddy.

Métis Urban Housing has affordable rental units.

Métis Urban Housing applied last summer to building a fourplex instead of a duplex, says a July 2023 Leader article. A duplex was approved, but not the fourplex. This replaces a detached house.

This duplex was for a lot in northeast Slave Lake. This is the construction project across the road from Schurter Park.

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