Big Lakes calling on province to reinstate grant program

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County is urging the provincial government to return a program for grants-in- lieu of taxes for social housing.
At its regular meeting Sept. 28, council approved a briefing document asking the government reinstate the program, related to Heart River Housing.
Council also requests government find a way to assist modest income earners that does not punish the municipality for having social housing by increasing funding towards the Private Landlord Rent Supplement Program, the Direct Rent Supplement Program or increased support for Indigenous communities to get more family housing, the briefing states.
Historically, the province has provided municipalities with a grant in lieu of taxes (GILT) for social housing owned by the Alberta Social Housing Corporation.
The grant generally provided the municipality money it would have received if the owner were subject to the payment of property taxes.
Requests were supported in a resolution by council at its regular meeting Aug. 9.
Members of the northwest zone of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta fall also endorsed the resolution at a meeting Aug. 12. The resolution will be presented at the RMA fall convention Nov. 7-10 in Edmonton, says Brett Hawken, director of community and protective services.
Since the grants-in- lieu program ended in 2015, Big Lakes has lost about $11,000 each year in lost revenue.
“It has also placed an additional burden on the taxpayers of Big Lakes in terms of covering the requisitions for exempt properties,” the document says.
What makes Big Lakes’ social housing situation so unique is that we have four First Nations and three Metis communities all within the county. As a result, about 80 per cent of the population living in social housing in the region are Indigenous.
Eliminating the grants-in-lieu program has placed an extra burden of roughly $88,5000 per year on the taxpayers in the Town of High Prairie, the briefing adds.
As well, High Prairie is also responsible for covering the requisition payments for more than 55 exempt properties.
“Eliminating the program has impacted all communities in Alberta,” the document states.
“However, the impact on High Prairie is more severe to the taxpayers compared to other communities as High Prairie has more social housing units per capita than other urban communities.
The difference is two to eight times more units to people in High Prairie when compared to other communities.
Heart River Housing also has 90 rental subsidies in High Prairie.
Despite having 90 rental subsidies and 55 family social housing units in High Prairie, there is still a shortage of social housing.
In fact, there is usually a waiting list of 90-plus families looking for housing.
Big Lakes has forwarded the briefing document to High Prairie and the Town of Swan Hills.

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