Celebrating a Year of Progress and Community

As we bid farewell to 2023, Westwinds Communities reflects on a year that has been nothing short of productive and bustling with important initiatives. Throughout the months, our communities in the Foothills have witnessed transformative changes, the benefits of partnerships and collective efforts to address the increasingly critical needs of those in need of quality, affordable housing.

Throughout the past year, Westwinds remained at the forefront of positive change, guided by our unwavering mission to provide quality, safe and affordable housing solutions and supports. From navigating shifts in affordable housing programs to securing additional funding and embarking on ambitious housing projects, 2023 was a year of great progress for our team and community.

Transformative Housing Projects Taking Shape

Westwinds has made great progress in the building of a 38 below-market rental units in two buildings in Okotoks, which will be completed in two phases. These units will cater to the housing needs of families, couples, roommates, and seniors currently on housing wait-lists.  Westwinds secured the land this year and has applied for various grants and financing.

Long-Term Affordability Commitment

Beginning in June, we welcomed tenants to our newly developed Drakes Towns in Okotoks. This development provides ten new units of near market and affordable housing in the Drakes Landing community on the corner of Milligan Drive, 48 Street and Drakes Landing Boulevard. We were pleased to secure a formal agreement with the Town of Okotoks and CMHC  to ensure that rental rates for Westwinds’ units will remain affordable for 40 years.

Municipal Leaders Unanimously Support Affordable Housing

In a testament to community support, the Town of Okotoks unanimously agreed to cover additional costs associated with our critical affordable housing projects. The decision reflects a collective commitment to addressing the pressing need for safe and affordable housing in our region.

Improvements to Housing Programs

Earlier in the year, we initiated a process to review and reinvigorate our affordable housing waitlist, aligning with the Province’s new requirement for reapplication. This has streamlined our processes, leading to a reduction in waitlists for seniors’ independent living and family affordable housing. We’re now better positioned to serve those who are committed to securing housing with us.

Residency Requirement for Seniors Independent Living and Family Affordable Housing

Westwinds has also implemented a residency requirement that focuses on the needs of our local community. This adjustment allows us to address the specific housing needs of the Foothills Region more effectively while maintaining flexibility in our retirement living lodges and near-market housing programs.

Community-Based Support

We were thankful to receive support from the Outreach and Social Justice Team, comprising members from St. Andrews United Church (De Winton), United Church in the Valley (Diamond Valley), and Okotoks United Church, who joined forces with Westwinds to help address the pressing issue of affordable housing in our region.

Recognizing the critical need for an emergency fund at Westwinds, the team collaborated to establish an Emergency Fund administered by Westwinds. This initiative provides crucial support to individuals and families facing financial crises that jeopardize their housing security. The three churches committed $5,000 to the Emergency Fund, with the flexibility to provide additional funding as needed. Eligible recipients are required to undergo a two-hour money management course. By the end of November, the program fund was exhausted speaking  to the financial challenges many of our clients and tenants encounter.

Boost in Rental Assistance Benefit Program

We were pleased to receive additional funding from the Province for our Rental Assistance Benefit Program. This increase has had a positive impact on households in Okotoks, with over 100 new households admitted since April 2023. As of November, we have 263 households receiving rental assistance benefits, representing a remarkable 62% increase in just over six months. The program need continues to expand with a growing waitlist.

Navigating Challenges in Seniors Lodge Programs & Recommending a Comprehensive Review

In the midst of great progress, challenges in Alberta’s Seniors Lodge Program surfaced – demanding our attention and advocacy. The challenges include impact of inflation: creating a financial strain on seniors’ lodges, affecting wages, benefits, and operating costs; ongoing lack of capital funding: critical maintenance and repairs are still needed in many lodges, highlighting the lack of adequate capital funding from the province; and sustained issues with the Lodge Assistance Grant: since 2018, the stagnant Lodge Assistance Grant has not kept pace with inflation, impacting the seniors housing community’s ability to provide quality services, resulting in increased rates for residents and tenants.

We believe addressing these issues is critical – and we communicated our recommendation for a comprehensive review of the Seniors Lodge Program to address these ongoing challenges. An effective review with actionable improvement that reflect today’s challenges could improve the program’s sustainability and the well-being of seniors.

Launching Our New Website: A Hub for Connection

In the midst of challenges, we launched our new website. This platform provides regular blogs, podcasts, and community forums to encourage ongoing discussion. We will continue to seek opportunities to make it easier for our community to connect with us and access the information they need.

Our Extraordinary Team and Unsung Heros

In between the great strides made over the past year, our extraordinary team continue to respond to the challenges of COVID-19, remaining resilient and responsive, ensuring the well-being and safety of our residents and staff.

We continued to enhance the quality and comfort of our communities through strategic renovations. These upgrades focused on our dedication to creating living spaces that are not only safe and affordable but also comfortable and modern.

Our extraordinary staff continued their unwavering dedication and commitment – and were the driving force behind our continued success over the past year. Behind every met goal, every challenge, improvement, and opportunity to provide the best affordable housing solutions possible, is our team. 

As we reflect on the accomplishments of the 2023, please join me in extending gratitude to our exceptional team for their tireless efforts and invaluable contributions to the Westwinds community.

Looking Ahead

As we anticipate another year, let’s reflect on the unity and dedication demonstrated by our community leaders, partners, and supporters. Let us continue to be hopeful for the positive changes and opportunities that lie ahead.

As we embark on these transformative projects, we invite you to stay connected, share your thoughts, and be part of the positive change we’re creating together. Your support and engagement make a difference.

Wishing you a community-filled new year!