Headlines: Feb. 12, 2024

· The Pulse
  • ICE District Corporation, a subsidiary of Katz Group, has launched a lawsuit against Boyle Street Community Services over a conditional $5-million donation promised for the agency's new facility, the King Thunderbird Centre, CBC reported. According to court documents, Katz Group alleges it shouldn't have to follow through with the donation because Boyle Street hasn't sufficiently fundraised on its own. Boyle Street argued in its own court filings that Katz Group is reneging on its commitment after acquiring the downtown property the agency used to occupy. In a statement posted online, Coun. Aaron Paquette said the situation "raises important questions about relying on private entities to fund essential and life-saving projects in our communities," adding that he has reached out to both parties. Boyle Street says it is continuing its fundraising efforts for the King Thunderbird Centre and has already raised 81% of its $28.5 million goal. The new facility is expected to be completed in early 2025.
  • The City of Edmonton spent nearly $1.7 million on encampment cleaning efforts in 2023, a 65%-increase from 2022. The city and police dismantled 2,417 encampments last year, up from 1,920 the previous year. Complaints related to homelessness to 311 have nearly quadrupled since 2020, with 17,000 in 2023. Jim Gurnett of the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness argued it would be more cost-effective to provide ongoing sanitation services and other support for people who prefer encampment living to shelters.
  • More than 200 members of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce gathered last week to discuss the role of the business community in addressing Edmonton's homelessness crisis, nearly a month after city council voted to declare a housing and homelessness emergency. Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who attended the event, said he hopes the business community comes together to work with governments to tackle the issue. Among the suggestions discussed at the meeting was providing more city land for affordable housing projects. "Making land available is something that we can definitely pursue," Sohi said.
  • Edmonton Public Library workers represented by Civic Service Union 52 have voted 94% in favour of taking strike action. Union president Lanny Chudyk said the high voter turnout of 93% shows the workers' determination for fair treatment and equitable wages. City of Edmonton employees represented by the union are also voting on whether to strike. Both the library and the City of Edmonton have filed lockout applications with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. The union says the workers have been without a contract since 2020 and haven't had a wage increase since 2018. Members recently rejected a proposed 7.25% increase over five years as insufficient.
  • The Edmonton Police Service believes a gang behind a series of extortion attempts and arsons is targeting young men in the city's South Asian community. Speaking at a town hall meeting last week, Staff Sgt. Dave Paton encouraged community members to talk to their families. "Have a conversation about the events that are unfolding in the city," he said. "Those that are perpetrating these crimes are coming from the South Asian community." Police said they have identified "12 targets and many more associates" in their investigation, and encouraged anyone who has paid the extortionist after being threatened to come forward. About 250 people attended the meeting.
  • Edmonton's chief corporate economist, Felicia Mutheardy, is predicting stable economic growth for the city in 2023-24, with GDP levels expected to return to pre-pandemic figures. Despite the optimism, Mutheardy said there are concerns about how a rapidly increasing population could impact affordability in Edmonton. While she characterized the city's labour market in 2023 as "resilient," employment growth is expected to slow in 2024 because of high inflation and interest rates.
  • The vacancy rate in Edmonton's rental market is the lowest it has been in nearly a decade, according to a recent report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The overall rate for purpose-built rental apartments dropped to 2.4% in 2023 from 4.3% in 2022. While the rental supply increased slightly in 2023, rental costs still rose by 6.4% to an average monthly rent of nearly $1400 for a two-bedroom apartment in the city. According to the report, high mortgage rates and inflation have shifted demand from home buying to renting, with population growth exacerbating the housing strain.
  • The City of Edmonton celebrated Bike to Work Day on Feb. 9 by inviting winter cyclists to gather, share tips, and enjoy a hot beverage. The city says the number of winter cyclists doubled last December compared to the previous year. About 25% of cyclists in Edmonton ride their bikes year-round, said Jenny Albers with the city's traffic operations.
  • Edmonton-based budget carrier Flair Airlines is forecasting a positive economic outlook despite owing $67 million in unpaid taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency. CEO Stephen Jones, speaking at a virtual conference, said he expects an increase in domestic flights in 2024 because of the airline's competitive pricing, noting Flair sold 86% of all available seats in 2023. Jones did not share details of the company's tax debt, but confirmed a payment plan is in place.
  • Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman officially launched her Alberta NDP leadership bid during a campaign event on Feb. 11. Hoffman, who previously served as deputy premier and health minister during the NDP's time in government, said her campaign will focus on health care, climate action, and housing. Rachel Notley announced last month she will step down as party leader after nearly a decade. NDP members have until April 22 to ensure their membership is valid to vote in the leadership election, which is scheduled for June 22.