The provincial government plans to transfer or sell most of the affordable housing properties owned and managed by the Alberta Social Housing Corporation over the next decade.
On Friday, the seniors and housing ministry unveiled the Affordable Housing Management Framework, the strategy that will be used to determine whether the Alberta government keeps a property, transfers ownership to another operator, or sells it on the open market.
“Alberta will shift away from being a significant owner of housing stock and focus on regulating and funding affordable housing,” the document states.
The government describes the framework as a complementary document to Stronger Foundations, its 10-year affordable housing strategy that was released last year.
The Alberta Social Housing Corporation, a Crown corporation, owns and operates 3,000 properties — or about 27,000 units.
The provincial government suggests it cannot afford to update the existing stock of affordable housing, nor meet the current need for certain types of housing. Transferring ownership would allow “more responsive and preventive maintenance over the long-term.”
Per the framework, each year for 10 years, the government would sell about 20 properties — that are vacant, or inappropriate for affordable housing — to generate revenue that would be used to renovate, expand or redevelop other affordable housing properties.
Other properties — assets that could be transformed into mixed-income developments as tenants move out — would be transferred to housing operators such as municipalities, non-profit groups and private companies.
The new operators could use surpluses and “leveraged equity” to renovate or maintain the properties, or build new ones, the framework says. An encumbrance or caveat will be placed on the land title, however, ensuring the property continues as affordable housing.
The Alberta government did not provide CBC News with an estimate of how many of the Crown corporation’s assets would fall into the second category, prior to publication. Such a figure was not included in the document.
Under the framework, the government still has to own some social housing, such as properties for people with disabilities, or if no one within a community wants to take over ownership.
The government says no one will lose their homes during a transfer. Changes will be put on hold until tenants either move out, or are moved to another affordable housing unit.
The strategy and framework — which were enabled after the Alberta Housing Amendment Act passed last fall — will expand affordable housing in Alberta and create 13,000 new units by 2032, the province says.
When the Alberta Housing Amendment Act was tabled, Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon insisted the government was not privatizing housing, but instead working in partnership with other organizations.
Critics say the province’s decision to divest its social housing stock could not come at a worse time, as high inflation rates and surging rent have priced many people out of the housing they need.
Building affordable housing through the Alberta Social Housing Corporation may be the best way to meet the urgent need for housing, said Bradley Lafortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, a non-partisan advocacy group.
“We’re not seeing the market really take care of itself when it comes to housing affordability and adequacy,” he said.
“It’s a real crisis for a lot of people and it is actually time for us to look very seriously about more public intervention.”
Marie Renaud, Opposition NDP critic for community and social services, is concerned about a lack of transparency throughout the process.
The current problems of high rent, homelessness and the cost of living should compel the government to act more quickly, she said.
“There doesn’t seem to be urgency from this government to get shovels in the ground, build more housing stock, create more units,” she said.
The framework report says transfers and sales of government housing assets will be reported in the annual reports for Alberta Seniors and Housing.