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Wood Buffalo Housing grows in slower economy

Wood Buffalo Housing grows in slower economy
Aug 23, 2009
Fort McMurray Today staff

Even with a battered housing market and low oil prices driving Fort McMurray’s economy down, 2008 was a success for the Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corporation, said president Bryan Lutes, at the non-profit organization's annual general meeting last night.

About 30 people shuffled into the Golden Years Society Activity Centre to listen to reports from Wood Buffalo Housing’s board of directors, from financial statements to planning goals.

“2008 was a very good year in putting things together and building on what we’ve been working on with our government partners for several years now,” Lutes said. “We’re starting to see the fruits of those negotiations and labours.”

Lutes said Wood Buffalo Housing is continuing to work with provincial and municipal partners to bring the recommendations of the Radke Report, a 2007 report on the state of housing in Wood Buffalo, to life. “As part of the Radke Report, it was determined that there was a need here, so we worked with our provincials partners (on) the 300 units in Eagle Ridge … and 300 units we’ll be building in Stone Creek, and funding to build those,” he said. “The total grant funding of $90 million to build 600 units, plus the land to build it on … so that’s a start.”

The expansion equals a 35% growth in net assets for Wood Buffalo Housing — up to $202 million from around $149 million in 2007. According to Lutes, the recession does not seem to be hurting the company. Quite the opposite.

“Our wait list in this time of economic uncertainty has actually gone up,” he said. “We currently have over 429 individuals or families on our wait list. So our need has not decreased … if one individual in the family loses their income source, they still want to be here. So their need has gone up. We could, if we had 429 units today, occupy them today, so that’s what we’re building for.”

Lutes said the state of the housing market in Fort McMurray seems to have bottomed out, and is now making a return. “If you talk to real estate boards, we’re seeing a minor return. We saw them bottom in the spring and now we’re seeing a slight turn up now in resale values of real estate,” he said. “We are confident that it will resurge. Do we necessarily need to see it as busy we were in the last five years? No. A good, consistent growth would be preferable to the rapid growth we have been seeing over the last several years.”

The increased development and the recovery of the real estate market may be two factors contributing to the financial situation of Wood Buffalo Housing, a situation Lutes calls “pretty good.” He said good relationships with lending partners have ensured the organization can continue its work.

“Our lending partners are very happy with what we are doing. We have good relationships with our lenders and with CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation),” said Lutes. “In fact, our lenders have increased our borrowing limits. So they like what we’re doing, they’re confident in what we’re doing, and they see a good future for us.”


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