By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Earlier this year, residents of the Rose Butte Apartments, a seniors housing complex in Nobleford, were served “relocation” notices and told the building was being sold by the Province of Alberta.
Under government ownership, the apartments were managed by Green Acres Foundation, who were not interested in purchasing the building. The Rose Butte Apartments are among the first properties sold under the Province of Alberta’s new “Stronger Foundations” housing strategy and has been purchased by the Town of Nobleford to be converted into municipal offices and house the new council chambers once renovations are complete.
In the fall of 2022, the Province of Alberta announced their plans to transfer or sell off the majority of affordable housing properties owned and managed by Province over the next ten years. The Ministry of Seniors and Housing released the Affordable Housing Asset Management Framework (AHAMF).
As outlined in the framework, in most cases, certain conditions must be met in the sale or transfer of these affordable housing units. In cases of a transference of property, the AHAMF notes, “an encumbrance will be registered on title to ensure the asset continues to provide affordable housing, such as a caveat on title or option to repurchase agreement. Regular monitoring will ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement.” However, in the case of a sale, no such caveat is mentioned.
In cases of a sale, “the government will identify the Alberta Social Housing Corporation (ASHC)-owned real estate assets for sale, with the aim of generating funds for renovation, expansion, or redevelopment. Government may proceed with sales where the assets are in areas with high supply or low demand for below-market rental housing, or where the asset is vacant or not functional for affordable housing and could be repurposed.”
According to the AHAMF, “great care will be taken in implementing the framework, particularly pertaining to asset sales or transfers that are not vacant.”
The Town of Nobleford is expected to gain possession of the building in September 2023. The purchase of the Rose Butte Apartments is reflected in the Town’s 2023 Budget, and various council meeting minutes from February-June of 2023.
Although the specific contract with the Province is not public, minutes from the April 11, 2023 Nobleford council meeting show council approved up to $243,750 for the purchase of Rose Butte Apartments from the Alberta Social Housing Corporation, with the funds to be sourced from Capital Contingency Reserves. Council had previously passed a resolution to make a $200,000 offer on the apartment building during the Feb. 13, 2023 council meeting.
During the Aug. 16 public council meeting, Mayor of the Town of Nobleford, Joan Boeder said, “council did look at all the options (…) and we did feel it was the best, most affordable option for the Town. We in good faith, went according to the contract and conditions of the sale.”
Nobleford resident, Lana Kendall appeared before Nobleford council during the “open floor” portion of the Aug. 16 Nobleford council meeting to express her discontent with council’s decision to not move forward with alternative options for the Town’s new municipal offices which would, “keep housing as housing.”
CAO for the Town Joseph Hutter said, “There would be absolutely no purpose for us to buy the building for it to remain (used) for the same purpose.” Hutter went on to explain the Town is, “not in the business of (…) [providing housing as a service].”
Lana interjected, “It is not a business; it is a community.”
Office of the Minister of Seniors, Community and Social Services press secretary Heather Barlow said, “Over the years, Rose Butte Apartments has experienced extended vacancies and the building is not operationally sustainable. Other properties in the area also had vacancies, indicating availability in the area to meet demand for affordable housing options.”
Barlow also said, “The revenue from the sale of Rose Butte Apartments will be reinvested into more affordable housing.” However, at this time, it is not clear where and when these sale revenues will be reinvested.
Mayor Joan Boeder confirmed, “The Province has not given the Town any indication on how or if the funds will be reinvested. Recently, Council provided a private developer with several letters of support for grant funding under the Province’s Affordable Housing Partnership Program for an affordable housing development in Town.”
Barlow stated that the AHAMF is, “helping (the Province) find ways to manage, transfer and sell housing assets—when and where it makes sense,” and that “the Town of Nobleford had expressed interest in purchasing the Rose Butte Apartments to be used as an administrative office and to deliver community services.”
Barlow said that The Green Acres Foundation gave the four tenants of Rose Butte Apartments 90 days’ notice, as per the Residential Tenancies Act, provided alternate independent living housing options, and arranged to cover moving cost, but Rose Butte resident, Betty Kendall said she feels some tenants were not truly given a choice in the matter.
Kendall has been a resident of the Rose Butte Apartments in Nobleford for five years.
“What disturbs me is I moved here from Kelowna to be near my family, so I’m not prepared to leave the community if I don’t have to.”
Kendall said she alone was offered the choice to relocate to Piyami Manor in Picture Butte or to the Wheatheart Manor in Barons, while the other three residents were offered a place in Barons and would have their cost of moving covered. Kendall said she relocated to Nobleford to be close to her family in the town and have some access to services.
“I’m not going to move to Barons, there’s nothing there. There’s not even a fire department.”
Currently, the Rose Butte Apartment building has four of the six apartment suites occupied, and three of the tenants are over 60.
“I feel just like all seniors, I am powerless.” Kendall said she envisioned the apartments being the place she spent the remaining years of her life. “I don’t want to leave my community.”
Nobleford’s Mayor Boeder said in a written statement to Southern Alberta Newspapers, “Council can genuinely empathize with the inconvenience this has caused for the residents of Rose Butte Apartments. From the beginning, Council was assured that the four residents in Rose Butte would be offered rooms in a Green Acres managed property, which are located as close as ten minutes away from the Town of Nobleford.”
Executive Director of the Alberta Seniors and Community Housing Association, (ASCHA) Irene Martin-Lindsay said, “certainly in the Stronger Foundations Affordable Housing Strategy, it recognizes that the Province needs more affordable housing in the right place.”
The Government of Alberta’s goal is to add 25,000 new affordable housing units by 2032, but communities with government-owned social housing deemed as “low-need” won’t necessarily see the revenue from those sales re-invested in their communities.
As the process of selling off government-owned social housing properties is still in its early stages, Martin-Lindsay said, “certainly sales have only happened in the buildings that aren’t working for affordable housing, or in the case of a community approach like this one, where everybody has talked about it and worked it through.”
“We can’t afford to lose any affordable housing where the need is great,” but said ASCHA’s understanding is that the building, “wasn’t necessarily meeting those needs. When you look at what you’re trying to achieve versus others in other locations that have massive waitlists.”
With respect to the relocation of tenants to Barons, and the reduction of services and amenities in the Village, Martin-Lindsay said, “That is unfortunate that those issues weren’t raised initially right when they started those conversati ons.”
Green Acres Foundation, who managed Rose Butte Apartments on behalf of the Alberta Social Housing Corporation, did not express interest in purchasing the building from the Province. CEO for Green Acres Foundation, Dawna Coslovi said, “all residents of Rose Butte Apartments in Nobleford were offered alternate apartments and we are paying for their moving costs. Three will be moving this week to Barons.”
Martin-Lindsay of the ASCHA said the situation is complex. “Everybody wants to age well in community and be supported and in the smaller community and it’s a struggle. We have many communities that have housing with vacancies.”
“The Province has a template for municipalities to do an assessment of the housing in their community, but they don’t fund it, so every municipality hasn’t necessarily done one. It would be excellent if the Province funded those assessments,” Martin-Lindsay said.
Mayor Boeder said, “while we believe that the majority of questions and concerns that we have heard are best suited for either one or both of the other parties involved (the Province, or Green Acres Foundation), we are very appreciative of residents taking an interest in Town business. We urge Town residents to engage with Council and Administration, and to provide feedback and ask questions through the various opportunities we provide, such as regularly-scheduled Council Meetings, Council Open Houses, Citizen Satisfaction Surveys and the Town’s official Facebook page.”
Barlow said, “the (Province’s) top priority continues to be helping low-income Albertans find affordable housing.”