Low-income housing organization urges council to take second look at tax exemption decision

Representatives from the Prince Albert Community Housing Society (PACHS) haven’t given up on their application for a five-year tax exemption on a new low-income housing project scheduled for completion this summer.

On Monday, city council denied PA Community Housing’s request for tax exemption on a soon to be completed 14-unit apartment complex located at 861 River Street West.

PACHS Manager Linda Boyer said she was disappointed with council’s decision, but still hopes to meeting with city officials next week. She’d like them to reverse their decision when the item comes up for a final vote at the Jan. 27 council meeting.

“PA Community Housing has been around in the city since 1977, and I think we have a good working relationship with the city and with all the businesses in Prince Albert,” Boyer said during an interview on Friday. “It is getting tougher and tougher to keep things affordable for tenants.”

The building should be finished this August, and will house roughly 20 people once completed. The primary tenants will be women who are either living with acquired brain injuries or have just been released from prison.

Boyer said there’s a huge need for this type of housing in Prince Albert. The building’s mortgage, combined with the fact that tenants will have very low income, means PACHS can use all the help they can get.

She added that PACHS has already received $30,000 from the City’s affordable housing program, but said there are still a lot of financial challenges ahead.

“We were at break even,” she explained. “If costs go over and above, then we’re going to struggle financially.”

Boyer added that PA Community Housing has shown a willingness not only to build low income housing, but to build on lots that have been vacant for several years. The city hasn’t received tax revenues from this property in years, she argued, and waiting for a few more won’t hurt them.

Many city councillors rejected the application outright on Monday because PACHS already received that $30,000 from the city. Mayor Greg Dionne was the most vocal critic. He said PACHS does good work, but city policies do not allow for both the five-year exemption and the $30,000 in funding.

“We’ve made up the programs and we have put on all of them ‘no stacking of benefits,’” Dionne said during Monday’s council meeting. “They received one benefit and they were told this. They are not eligible for another one. They asked if they could still ask, and of course we can’t deny it. They can ask council about anything, but they’ve got a deal already and that’s why I’m moving to deny it. We already have a policy that no stacking is allowed.”

City administrators also recommended that council refuse the application. Cheryl Tkachuk, the City of Prince Albert’s financial director, said city policy requires organizations to provide information about project finances and how it benefits the community. Without that information, they cannot receive tax relief, and Tkachuk said those answers wouldn’t be available until after the apartment opens to new tenants.

Council voted against the application by a 7-2 margin on Monday, but at least one councillor is urging her colleagues to reverse their decision. Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller said Prince Albert obviously needs apartment complexes like the one PACHS is building, and she’s open to giving the organization additional relief if they need it.

“It’s really hard that our province and our federal government are stepping away from housing a bit, more than what they should be,” she said during an interview on Friday. “If the City has to fill the need, I believe the City should.”

The building site is located just inside the Ward 1 boundary with Ward 2. In 2019 the federal and provincial governments agreed to contribute up to $980,000 towards construction, while the Provincial Métis Housing Corporation provided $500,000.

The Prince Albert Community Housing Society has also asked for tax relief on a second property, located at 690 18th Street West. The organization bought that property from the City of Prince Albert for $1.

“That land was only worth a dollar because it’s been sitting there and it was for sale for a number of years, so we’re willing to take a risk and go into those areas that are deemed at risk areas in the city,” Boyer said. “We’re willing to go in there and fix them up, but the city’s got to work with us on this.”

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