Cornerstones Helps Build New Co-op Housing for Artists on Alberta AvenueSixteen new affordable apartment suites for artists were officially opened June 30 with the help of a $2.4 million investment by the City of Edmonton and the Government of Alberta through the Cornerstones Affordable Housing Program.
The project was funded to help increase the supply of local affordable housing and help the City of Edmonton and the Alberta Avenue community in their joint efforts to revitalize the 118th Avenue area.
ArtsHab Alberta Avenue is the Cornerstones program's first affordable housing co-op for artists. It includes one-bedroom and studio suites as well as ground floor commercial space occupied by the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts. Partners in the ArtsHab Alberta Avenue project include the Arts Habitat Association, the Edmonton Inner-City Housing Society and the Artists Urban Village.
This building is an innovative concept where an artists’ co-operative manages the suites under a 50-year lease. The co-op reviews and approves applications from prospective members, who then pay membership fees and rent. Rents are set at no more than 85 per cent of average market rents as determined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Potential tenants can apply online at Arts Habitat Association.
Why fund arts-based housing?
In 2006, Edmonton City Council acknowledged the importance of arts and heritage to the growth of our city. They directed the Edmonton Arts Council to come up with a cultural plan for Edmonton. The Arts Council came up with the 10-year Art of Living plan which included several recommendations to secure the future of arts and heritage in our city. One of those recommendations was for the City to work with the Arts Habitat Association of Edmonton to use the arts to help revitalize neighbourhoods and develop community identity.
Organizations like ArtsHab bring together a number of stakeholders who can help develop strong communities throughout our city. In this case, they gathered input and resources from artists, community members, local businesses, and patrons of the arts. The City’s role as a steward of public funds was to help them navigate the grant application process and comply with City bylaws, permitting and zoning requirements.
This project aligned with the City’s Alberta Avenue Revitalization Strategy. The City has rezoned 118th Avenue to allow for mixed-use development (street-level commercial space with residential units on top). This rezoning allows for buildings that increase density and improve safety.
How does that improve safety?
By increasing density along a main street like 118th Avenue, more people can be housed in a compact area. In addition to making more efficient use of existing infrastructure, higher density allows for a more active street life and more “eyes on the street.” More people living in a neighbourhood results in more people who feel proud to be part of that neighbourhood. They are more likely to look out for their fellow community members and report suspicious activity to the police.
It takes time to create new housing like this, and to allow new residents to become established. This project is building on the success of businesses and community organizations along 118th Avenue in promoting community pride in the area.
Why fund affordable housing?
Housing is a critical need for all households, regardless of income. Where we live determines our ability to find work, go to school, meet other people, and enjoy our lives. Safe, affordable housing reduces stress and allows us to focus our energies on being productive citizens. City Council wanted to address a shortage of affordable housing affecting low-income households in our city when it examined this issue in 2005 and approved the Cornerstones program.
The ArtsHab Alberta Avenue project follows a number of successful openings for developments that received Cornerstones funding. These included rental apartments for citizens at large and some targeted to housing seniors, Aboriginal families, and women leaving abusive situations. Attractive, safe, and affordable housing helps our neighbours meet their basic needs while becoming part of their community. An affordable home helps them to achieve their potential and contribute to our city.
By investing in affordable housing, we are investing in people, who in turn become part of communities and help contribute to a more livable city for everyone to enjoy.
You keep talking about Cornerstones. What is it?
The City of Edmonton’s Cornerstones Plan is about creating partnerships. It brings communities, businesses and governments together to develop affordable housing. Created by Edmonton City Council in partnership with the Government of Alberta and community organizations, the Cornerstones program supports Council’s strategic vision to improve Edmonton’s livability and manage growth.
The Cornerstones Plan was City Council's 5 year plan (2006-2010) to increase the number of long term affordable housing units and advocate for increases in income supports and support services funding for lower income Edmontonians in need of housing.
What has Cornerstones accomplished?
The City has used some of its own funding to leverage additional money from the provincial and federal governments to establish a number of grant programs for Edmontonians. Candidates can apply for grant funding to develop or upgrade various types of new or existing affordable housing units. Together, these programs make up the Cornerstones Program.
As of May 31, 2011, 2,622 safe, secure homes have been achieved for citizens and families in need under the Cornerstones program. The program has already exceeded the goal set by City Council in 2006 of an additional 2,500 affordable homes completed by 2011.