Northern Star affordable housing project is done for

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

Details are still scarce, but The Leader has gotten official word on the Northern Star Hotel affordable housing project:

It’s dead in the water.

Or, in the words of Alberta’s Minister of Seniors and Housing Jason Nixon, “terminated.”

Here’s the statement by Nixon, emailed to The Leader on Feb. 9:

“Alberta’s government is committed to ensuring Albertans in all communities have access to safe, secure, and stable housing. The contract with Slave Lake Accommodation Ltd. to redevelop the North(ern) Star Hotel was terminated. Terminating an agreement is always the last resort and only used if other efforts to get the project on track are unsuccessful.”

The Leader reached out to the hotel, but had not heard back by press time. For whatever reason, they couldn’t make the project work.

The deal between the province and the hotel owners envisioned that through a combination of government money and private investment, the unused north wing of the hotel would be converted to affordable housing units. As it was explained at the time, by this means, the government hoped to kill two birds with one stone.

First, Slave Lake would get more affordable housing; second, the government would save money on the project by way of involving private investment.

The arrangement followed several years of the Slave Lake Regional Housing Authority trying to come up with a project of its own that it could do within the $4.5 million the province had allocated for the purpose. Several proposals were put forward, but none seemed to make financial sense.

When the Jason Kenney United Conservative Party took power in 2019, the game changed. The priority shifted to forming the so-called ‘public-private partnerships,’ for such projects. According to reports at local municipal council meetings, such partnerships had worked in larger centres; how they might work on a smaller scale (such as in Slave Lake) was not clear.

Evidently, the government and the hotel owners thought it could work. But it didn’t.

What happens next is not clear. Presumably some of the $4.5 million has been spent, on the unfinished renovation project. Will the government get it back, or will it have to write it off? Nixon’s statement provides no clues on that score.

“We will continue to engage with the community and MLA Sinclair,” the minister concludes, “to find an appropriate housing provider that can support the housing needs of low-income individuals in Slave Lake.”

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