River Bank Development Corporation takes stock of past year

Matt Gardner
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The River Bank Development Corporation (RBDC) continued its focus on housing over the past year while expanding its activities in other areas, board members reported at their annual general meeting on Thursday.

River Bank Development Corporation manager Brian Howell (left) and board chair Merv Bender facilitate the organization’s annual general meeting on Thursday at the Bernice Sayese Centre.

Aside from housing, the non-profit also continued its efforts to promote job creation, food security and recycling to the homeless population of Prince Albert.

“It’s been a good year,” manager Brian Howell said after the meeting, which took place at the Bernice Sayese Centre.

Howell identified two projects as particular highlights of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The first was the successful tendering of a six-unit housing project at 3096 5A Ave. E., which is aimed at single individuals and is currently in the early stages of construction.

Another high point for the RBDC was their delivery of $360,000 in Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) funding -- an annual part of their role as a designated Community Entity for the program.

“That’s a big project for us,” Howell said. “We deliver $360,000 a year that goes in grants projected towards ending homelessness in Prince Albert.

“We took over that two years ago and we had to develop a whole infrastructure -- contracts and monitoring forms and a relationship with the Community Advisory Board and the whole structure to kind of find the projects and dispense funds and monitor them appropriately. Some of the projects we did we were very proud of.”

Originally awarded the Community Entity role for two years, the RBDC has successfully applied for another five-year term that will end in 2019.

Where food security was concerned, the RBDC’s activities for the year largely revolved around the Prince Albert Food Coalition and its existing partnerships with Smart Families and the Community Kitchens Program.

“We helped to set up the community gardens up at Holy Cross School and we worked on the food charter and some of their projects as well,” Howell noted.

Among the business at the annual general meeting was the appointment of an auditor for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which will remain as before MNP.

Financial statements revealed revenues of approximately $1.3 million, with expenditures slightly less.

“We show a small net (gain) each year which gets directed into reserve funds,” Howell said. “But we’re financially healthy and stable and very viable.”

Board elections at Thursday’s meeting saw no changes in the composition of that body.

“The current board all wanted to stay for another year and we didn’t have any interest from anyone else,” Howell said.

“We've got a good board,” he added. “They’re from diverse backgrounds. We’ve got managers, we have people from credit union and finance backgrounds, we've got service delivery people, we’ve got human resources people … It’s the kind of board you should have where your target population and the services you provide are all …  represented, so you get their input and wisdom and direction.”

We have to look at what we’re going to do next, because we can’t ever stop growing. Brian Howell

The RBDC currently owns and operates 80 units of housing in the Prince Albert area.

Howell described the organization as now on a growth trajectory as it continues to build and add new properties -- albeit nowhere near as rapidly as it did from 2003 to 2007, when it added 50 new properties within a five-year time frame.

“We’ve had a more tempered growth spurt over the past five years,” Howell said. “We’re still growing, but more slowly and more manageably. We acquire a few units every year and we hope eventually to come to a point when our housing initiatives are self-supporting.

“At this point in time we rely on other sources of income, so we do other projects besides housing to make enough money to keep River Bank afloat. But our objective in the longer term is to become self-sufficient in the housing field.”

For the moment, the RBDC relies largely on partnerships with the provincial and federal governments.

Looking ahead to the next year, Howell noted that a major focus would be integrating the six-unit project into its existing housing.

“We have to look at what we’re going to do next, because we can’t ever stop growing,” he said. “We need to be thinking about where we might find some funding or go in the private market and do a deal that will add to our housing stock.”

The RBDC will also have to cope with changes to HPS funding which requires funds to be directed towards the Housing First model.

“Rather than doing what we’ve done in the past, which has been to support capital projects that can improve the physical circumstances of the homeless, we now have to move towards the kind of projects that actually work directly with the homeless population to put them in housing,” Howell said.

“That is a big, big, big switch and change in direction, and it’s going to require lots of work with the local service providers.”

Organizations: River Bank Development, Bernice Sayese Centre, Community Advisory Board Prince Albert Food Coalition Smart Families Holy Cross School

Geographic location: River Bank

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