Longtime PA Community Housing GM headed for retirement after final sod-turning

Representatives from Prince Albert Community Housing pose for a photo with guests and dignitaries before breaking ground on a new five-plex low income residence. The building will provide space for five low-income families. It will also mark the start of PA Community Housing’s new Elder in Residence program. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

After more than 30 years on the frontlines of Prince Albert’s fight for affordable housing, Prince Albert Community Housing GM Linda Boyer is headed for retirement.

Boyer spent 32-and-a-half years with the organization, the last 22 as general manager. Boyer said she’s proud of the work PA Community Housing did during that period, but it’s also hard to believe it’s gone by so fast.

“It’s been a really good career backed by a wonderful board of directors and marvelous staff members.

“Where did the time go? There’s nothing boring about this job. It’s busy, busy, busy. I look at how many people we’ve housed and how we’ve given them a home and they’ve gone on to buy their own home, it’s a wonderful feeling to help people.”

The sod-turning for a new five-plex is the West Flat on June 15 was Boyer’s last major event with the organization. She’ll stay on until the end of the month, when she’s replaced by incoming GM Kathi Wilson.

“She’s done such an incredible job over the past 32 plus years,” Wilson said following the sod-turning. “The organization I’m walking into is a very well-run, efficient organization.”

Boyer thrived in her role as GM, but filled the role reluctantly. She became GM after spending the first 10 years at the PA Community Housing accountant, and originally wasn’t keening on changing roles.

“I was kind of talked into it,” she remembered. “I was a reluctant manager when I started, and it turned into a very filling career for me, housing so many people, hiring staff, seeing how you treat each other as family.”

The PA Community Housing portfolio expanded under Boyer’s leadership. Today, Prince Albert Community Housing Society Inc. owns and maintains 218 houses, 14 family four-plexes, 3 six-plexes, 1 four-unit senior garden apartment, 6 duplexes, an 18-unit townhouse complex, 5 apartment blocks, 2 senior homes. However, that growth has come with challenges.

Boyer said gang activity and petty crime like break-ins have increased since she first started. That’s forced them to think about home security as much as affordability and location.

The COVID-19 outbreak made things even more challenging for residents seeking low-income housing. Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation data for Prince Albert shows the average rental unit cost $880/month in October 2019. By October 2022, that number had increased to $932.

When combined with other price increases, such as the cost of food, gas, and construction materials, Boyer said PA Community Housing and their tennants are looking at big challenges in the future.

“I don’t know where it’s going to end,” she said. “There’s so many homeless people, I just don’t know where everybody’s going to get housed. It’s a crisis out there.”

Wilson, who takes over officially in July, has similar concerns. She said most Canadian cities face affordability issues, so Prince Albert isn’t unique, but it’s also not a problem that’s going to go away quickly either.

“The shelter costs are more than many people have within their budgets as our groceries rise and our gas rises and everything else,” Wilson said. “What PA Community Housing does and continues to do is keep rents really affordable for people and that’s a key piece. Being able to do that as our costs to build and to maintain (housing units) continue to rise as well, there’s big challenges with that.”

PA Community Housing has a diverse list of clients, but families make up the larges chunk of new applicants, followed by seniors and singles. The growth among grandmothers raising their grandchildren is particularily notable, Boyer said. The organization currently has one four-plex designated specifically for them, but Boyer said there’s a need for more.

In the future, Wilson said they hope to provide more grassroots level programs and supports for their tenants. She said it’s going to be a challenge, but she’s confident the organization Boyer helped build is up for it.

“Many of our staff members have been there, along with Linda, for over 20 years,” Wilson said. “When I look and I see the people who have stayed, I see the strengths in that organization so my job I think is to come in and just continue with it and take it forward. We’ll do some new projects, and some exciting things for sure, but there’s a really solid organization there for me to work with, and Linda’s Linda’s going to continue to be a support for PA community housing, I’m sure, for years to come.”