This article originally appeared in Breaking Ground, a publication of the Edmonton Construction Association. View the original here.
By Lisa Kopochinski
Finding a solution for those who cannot afford quality housing continues to be a prime goal for both the Government of Alberta and EndPovertyEdmonton
While Canada remains one of richest countries worldwide, much work remains to help those in need—especially senior citizens.
The Government of Alberta understands this and through its Ministry of Seniors and Housing provides programs and services to assist seniors with their safety and wellbeing. The ministry also supports the development of affordable housing to ensure that Albertans in need have access to housing options.
At present, the population of seniors in Alberta is nearly 700,000 and is expected to grow to one million by 2035. This makes it more vital than ever to ensure that seniors can live safely and independently in their chosen communities. To this end, the ministry promotes age-friendly initiatives by collaborating with communities to develop approaches to a wide variety of challenges faced by seniors and those in need—including infrastructure builds for affordable housing.
GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA SENIOR HOUSING PROGRAMS
Dylan Topal is the press secretary to Josephine Pon, the Minister of Seniors and Housing. He says the goal of Alberta's social housing efforts are to:
provide affordable housing for Albertans with low incomes;
promote safety and the well-being of older Albertans to age in their chosen communities;
work closely with civil society organizations, housing management bodies, and other orders of government to build, renew, and maintain affordable housing; and
reduce regulatory requirements and administrative burdens for applicants and housing providers.
One of the ways the Ministry of Seniors and Housing is ensuring best value for money as they increase programming for seniors in the province is through a process called social procurement to achieve additional social and economic goals.
“Alberta Social Housing incorporates social procurement in our RFP process, awarding up to five per cent in additional points for those who utilized not-for-profit organizations and can provide consistent opportunities for people with employment barriers,” explains Topal.
SOCIAL PROCUREMENT AND WHAT IT ENTAILS
Annually, the Government of Alberta spends billions purchasing goods and services. Currently, the procurement system is set up to achieve the best price. Implementing social procurement often involves looking at how the provincial government spends, rather than spending more.
Through changes in procurement criteria, the Government of Alberta can use existing budgets and spending to get added value in the form of:
Supporting the business community in economic recovery and job creation;
Employment and skills training for diverse Albertans who are unemployed or low income;
Developing the capacity of social enterprises across the province;
Increasing access to jobs for Albertans struggling to find work from historically low-income and disadvantaged groups;
Targeted regional and local economic development;
Increased supply chain diversification, including social enterprise and businesses owned by diverse and underrepresented people; and
Other benefits including Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) through construction and infrastructure projects.
“We will continue to utilize social procurement through the pandemic and have been flexible in ways by which social procurement can be incorporated by the industry,” says Topal.
Susannah Cameron, manager of strategic initiatives at EndPovertyEdmonton (EndPovertyEdmonton), says that we need an economy that works for everyone and that provides access to good jobs, higher pay, business opportunities, and other benefits that will help to eliminate poverty in our community.
“We see social procurement as a way of driving economic opportunities for people living in poverty,” says Cameron.
Created to convene, coordinate, and broker partnerships in the work to end poverty in a generation (30 years) in Edmonton, EndPovertyEdmonton collaborates as economic consultants, trusted advisors, conveners, and community voice enablers toward policy change and provides systems support for its implementation.
“Our work is conducted in game-changer areas, each a root cause of poverty, and underpinned by foundational understanding and need,” explains Brooks Hanewich, EndPovertyEdmonton manager of strategic initiatives on the livable incomes game changer. We work broadly in the community, including all Edmontonians public, private, not-for-profit, and individuals to ensure policy actions benefit the whole community.
One of EndPovertyEdmonton's objectives is to test using social procurement and community benefit agreements as a tool to support businesses and social enterprise recovery and create employment during the process of COVID recovery and transition in Edmonton's economy.
SUCCESSFUL ENDEAVOURS TO DATE
Since 2017, EndPovertyEdmonton has had numerous successes from national and international recognition for the approach to solving poverty to tangible change within the community for people experiencing poverty. Some of these accomplishments include:
Establishment of the Edmonton Community Development Company;
Increasing cultural competency training for City staff;
Advocacy and uptake of Living Wage policies;
Advocacy and uptake of social procurement policies, including support for implementation; and
Advocacy and support for basic income policies.
“We are working with the University of Alberta in a Community University Partnership (CUP) on research and evaluation for many of our endeavours,” says Cameron.
Other EndPovertyEdmonton successful social procurement objectives include:
Working with provincial and local groups for collaborative advocacy around social procurement, workforce development, social enterprise capacity building, and living wages; At least 14 large enterprises are working with EndPovertyEdmonton on social procurement uptake. This work includes supporting these enterprises to connect with local diverse businesses and social enterprises, and several workforce development organizations that will help to source appropriate candidates from populations facing barriers to employment;
Large anchor institutions in Edmonton are engaged in exploratory conversations to adopt social procurement; and
Supporting associations, like the Edmonton Construction Association, to educate their members on social procurement.
“We are currently meeting with the Government of Alberta administration to educate and ask them to develop and implement a social procurement policy more broadly across the whole of the provincial government,” says Cameron.
The difficulties the construction industry is facing makes social procurement decisions more challenging. Hanewich says that margins are tighter, and the usual spending patterns have changed. Opportunities for smaller, diverse businesses and social enterprises are not as prevalent.
Connecting diverse groups within a system, like businesses, community organizations, and procurement departments requires a great deal of time to develop strong, trusting relationships.
Hanewich adds that there is a hint of a silver lining in public discourse because of the pandemic, as more people recognize the inequity and fragility of the government's current systems.
“This recognition is opening windows for change that had previously been stuck. We're grateful for the visionary leadership of those that came before us in establishing a systems-level anti-poverty initiative in our city, which allows us to respond to these changing times quickly.”
As for what the near future holds, both Cameron and Hanewich say it will take an effort by everyone to end poverty in Edmonton.
They say that in new and innovative ways, we all have to shift perceptions and bring more people into the work. The vision and knowledge of what needs to be done has to be shared widely and made accessible to every member of the community—from decision-makers to those with lived experience, from social sector to business. EndPovertyEdmonton is looking for a new community goals framework in late 2021 that will help everyone understand what they can do—be they public, private, not-for-profit, or individual—to help the community end poverty in a generation. As that happens, they will continue to provide support for the uptake of social procurement.
The Government of Alberta is also looking for ways to implement these strategies going forward.
“The Government of Alberta is continuing to seek ways to incorporate social procurement opportunities in our overall efforts through the implementation of the Affordable Housing Strategy that is coming soon,” concludes Topal.