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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Alberta Makes Housing Happen in Ft McMurray

The appointment of an Advisory Board on the development of 7000 residential housing units in the Parsons Creek area of Fort McMurray is great news. A full 20% of the first phase development will be affordable housing. This policy initiative has been a long time coming but better late than never.

I know most of the Advisory Board members and can say they are a very impressive group of people with experience, ability and integrity. Those members I know personally are involved and dedicated to the Wood Buffalo region and the northern part of Alberta generally. Good work Minister Fritz and thanks to those officials and citizens for taking on this task.

The Advisory Board is not going to develop the site but will represent community interests, advise and make recommendations to the powers that be about the overall development plan. The government lands will be sold and the profits will be reinvested in more affordable housing, schools, community health centres and recreation facilities.

Housing has long been a chronic and systemic problem in Fort McMurray for years. The release of Government of Alberta owned and controlled lands in the region have always been part of the solution. The Radke Report “Investing in Our Future: Responding to the Rapid Growth of Oil Sands Development” added to the political pressure and provided the policy clarity needed for the Stelmach government to break away from the lip-service paid to the issues by the former Klein regime.

Full Disclosure, way back in 2005 my firm worked on a Business Case and a tripartite agreement with all three orders of government to work out how to fund and process funds to meet infrastructure needs in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

It was agreed to as a preferred working model by every level of government at the administrative and political level but at the last minute Alberta balked at the political level about proceeding and it never found traction. Then Doug Radke came along with a terrific report that pushed the policy ball over the goal line. With new leadership in the province, the ideas and needs finally got some political traction.

With the current market and recession driven hiatus on further oilsands development the time to get going and to catch up to this serious housing crisis is now. Nice to see it happening.