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Northern Alberta hamlet implores rural municipality to end permit logjam, allow housing development

Scott Duguid, CEO of the Conklin Residential Housing Development Committee, during a media conference on Nov. 29, 2023, regarding a report that says at least three quarters of the hamlet of Conklin, Alta., is housing insecure. (Dave Mitchell/CTV News Edmonton) Scott Duguid, CEO of the Conklin Residential Housing Development Committee, during a media conference on Nov. 29, 2023, regarding a report that says at least three quarters of the hamlet of Conklin, Alta., is housing insecure. (Dave Mitchell/CTV News Edmonton)
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No running water. No electricity. A propane cookstove that serves as supplemental heat.

"In the wintertime when we get down to minus 25, I can't stay in there because it's too cold, so I have to look for an alternative place to stay for the night," Grace Richards says, describing life in the trailer she's lived in the last 10 years on her land in the Métis community of Conklin, Alta.

Richards's northeastern Alberta community is battling a crisis that finds at least three-quarters of its population without stable housing, with some saying delays at the regional level are holding up plans to address it.

Researchers in an updated report on housing stability in the hamlet of 229 people located about 150 kilometres south of Fort McMurray conservatively estimate between 75 and 85 per cent of residents are "currently housing insecure," defined by them as people under the spectrum of homelessness, including those unsheltered, emergency shelters, provisionally accommodated or at risk of homelessness.

The report's findings on the hamlet's housing and service needs — issued Wednesday by the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC), of which Richards serves as a board director, and the Edmonton-based non-profit Rural Development Network — reflect similar conclusions from 2018 that the majority of people living there don't have secure housing.

The situation "is not right," Richards said at a media conference Wednesday at Edmonton's Fantasyland Hotel. "I don't deserve to live like this. My community doesn't deserve to live like this."

There have been efforts to address the housing crunch — most recently from Cenovus Energy and the Alberta government, which each have provided support through Indigenous housing funding initiatives — but lags in the approval of construction permits have delayed projects, CRDAC chief executive officer Scott Duguid said Wednesday.

"We're struggling with our partner in Wood Buffalo in getting the permits and getting everything in place so that we can get the houses in place," Duguid said. "One example is bureaucrats in Fort McMurray holding us up over simple things like dry ponds and structural planning-related issues while we have community members who are living in trailers with black mould. It doesn't seem fair."

Duguid said housing has been built and is ready to be placed in Conklin.

"If the RMWB can't make this a priority, I urge our provincial government with legal jurisdiction over the municipal level to instruct the R.M. to allow us to build and place our houses," he said. "A housing crisis in Wood Buffalo should be a provincial embarrassment."

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, the R.M. of Wood Buffalo said officials "are deeply concerned about the ongoing housing crisis in Conklin."

"The municipality recognizes the frustration expressed by community leaders and residents with the process involving all levels of government, and commits to prioritizing and supporting housing efforts in the community," its statement Wednesday said.

On Thursday, the R.M. – which says it's been working with the CRDAC on Conklin's Pine Lake Subdivision since 2020 – called the situation "unique" and that six of eight infrastructure processes needed to transform the original "vacant raw land" into a residential development have been completed.

It said the process to inspect and approve work on the site continues and that CRDAC is at the Construction Completion Certificate Approval stage.

"The RMWB remains committed to working with CRDAC throughout this process, so that they are prepared to submit their development permit application," its statement Thursday said.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dave Mitchell

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