Affordable housing, permits and licensing discussed at Edmonton mayoral forum

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Housing affordability took centre stage at a forum for four Edmonton mayoral candidates on Thursday.

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Fielding questions from the seven real estate groups that hosted the discussion, Amarjeet Sohi, Kim Krushell, Michael Oshry and Cheryll Watson acknowledged that the cost of housing, compared to Canada’s other big cities, is one of Edmonton’s strengths, and something that needs to be maintained.

However, Krushell, Oshry and Watson spoke in favour of a private sector approach in neighbourhoods like Blatchford where the city is currently involved in development projects.

“Those right now are vacant holes in neighbourhoods, in communities and it is time for us as a city to get out of the land ownership and land development business. It is time for us to sell … and allow people who know how to manage businesses like that can do their own business,” said Watson.

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Oshry said there has been $200 million spent, there are 20 townhouses and 600 hectares generating zero per cent property tax right now at Blatchford and it adds up when you take other land the city owns into account.

When it comes to business permits and licensing, Oshry and Krushell called for a 30-day approval plan. Sohi said he would work with businesses to develop timelines that would be benchmarked against other municipalities and major Canadian cities and he also proposed the creation of a business advocate office which would work with businesses and act as a one-stop shop where people go for all needed programs and services.

Watson had a different idea and said she’s interested in what B.C. is doing.

“They’ve actually taken this responsibility out of the city and the city has assigned its mandate and responsibility to industry so architects and engineers, the ones already creating the drawings, will validate the drawings and it will be they that manages the licensing and permitting process,” Watson said.

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The candidates agreed Downtown needs to be revitalized and Sohi said Downtown will be successful if Edmontonians feel safe to do business, live and work in the area.

Oshry said there are 1,000 more homeless people on Edmonton streets since the pandemic began and the city has to step up and help them. He added people need to feel safe Downtown and construction projects need to be completed because at the moment, Downtown looks like it’s being renovated.

“There’s not enough policing, there’s not enough safety Downtown,” said Oshry. “We have to make sure that we support the police and we support appropriate policing.”

Krushell agreed Downtown safety is important but she said the city could also take advantage of newer trends such as Esports. She said the 2017 World League of Legends tournament had a larger viewership than the Super Bowl that year and there’s lots of money to be had if the city hosted a tournament here.

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Watson said she is the only candidate with a detailed plan for how she’s going to fix Downtown with the central business neighbourhood policy she announced months ago focusing on five areas — business made simple, enabling tech, pathways that connect, transportation that services the core and safety partnerships.

For the second time in two days, Mike Nickel did not attend a mayoral forum. Krushell told Postmedia she would like to see him in a debate where they talk about important issues before Edmontonians go to the polls.

The forum was hosted at Westin Edmonton with seven real estate presenting partners — BOMA Edmonton, Edmonton CREW, NAIOP Edmonton, UDI Edmonton Region, CHBA-Edmonton Region, REALTORS Association of Edmonton and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

ktaniguchi@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kellentaniguchi

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