First Place Program is First Class

Breaking into the housing market in a city like Edmonton can be difficult. The City’s First Place Home Ownership Program provides a helping hand. Recently, a number of City employees had a chance to learn more about the program and tour one of the production facilities that builds these homes. I went along for the ride.

The City approved development on vacant building sites in every quadrant in the city on land that was declared surplus by the school boards. Rohit Communities and Landmark Group of Builders were selected to build new townhouses on these sites. Both builders offer energy efficient housing at market rate that exceeds current building standards. New homes are currently under construction in the Caernavon, Casselman and Tawa communities.

The advantages to first-time buyers are many. First, the program allows first time buyers to enter the housing market sooner by making it easier to qualify for a mortgage. This is done by the City deferring the land costs for each home by five years. It also lowers monthly mortgage payments and saves buyers interest costs. First-time buyers are getting a high-quality home constructed by a reputable builder to a high efficiency rating without extra cost and will save on heating bills in the future. Another advantage is that they are moving into established communities with amenities already in place. Unlike other infill developments, neighbours have been involved in designing the new homes to ensure their fit in the community.

“Community engagement precedes construction on all sites,” Tim McCargar explains. Tim is the Director of Strategic Planning with the City’s Real Estate, Housing and Economic Sustainability, formerly called Corporate Properties. He is also leading the transformation of surplus school sites and implementing the First Place program. Involving the community is done through sending information to every home in the community, meeting with community leagues, public and individual meetings and responding to telephone calls and emails to address fears, correct misconceptions and answer questions.

“We try to establish contacts, develop relationships and build trust,” he said.

Some of the misconceptions the City has to dispel are that the projects are high-density. In fact, the two-story townhouses are low to medium density. Nor are they low-income housing; they are sold at market value to employed homebuyers with a combined household income of less than $117,000. Potential homebuyers must qualify for a mortgage.

Community engagement allows the City and builders to access local knowledge and ensures the First Place homes are a good fit within each community. Existing residents have opportunities to review designs and have input into such things as housing orientation, site access, integration with adjacent city land, landscaping and visitor parking among others.

Tawa Interior

What impressed me the most about the program was the quality of construction. A tour of the Landmark production facility sold me on the value of modular construction.

A three-dimensional computer program used to design the homes calculates the amount of material required which reduces waste. The houses are completely built, insulated and finished in the factory so the components are not exposed to the weather. They are then taken apart and transported to the site where they are assembled in only a few hours, minimizing disruption to the neighbourhood.
“Each house built in the factory saves six tons of greenhouse gas compared to if it were built on site,” Landmark’s Vice-president of Manufacturing, Curt Beyer, tells us.

For more information on the First Place Home Owners program, contact .


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About the Author
Shirley Serviss
Shirley Serviss is the City of Edmonton's first Writer-at-Work. She is a founding member of the Writers' Guild of Alberta and Edmonton Poetry Festival. Her poetry, essays and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines and textbooks. She currently teaches in Communications for MacEwan University, works part-time as the staff literary artist for the Friends of University Hospitals' Artists on the Wards program and is president of Artists Urban Village.
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