CANMORE – A change to Canmore Community Housing’s vital homes program will raise the bar on who can apply in attempting to gain affordable housing.
CCH’s board voted to remove its net asset criteria requirement which was set at $143,485 and increases the gross household income threshold from $147,423 to $250,000 as of Jan. 1, 2023. The aim is to broaden who can apply for Town-owned affordable housing.
“We really felt that under the previous qualification criteria we weren’t necessarily capturing all the people who could be part of the program,” said Rob Murray, CCH’s board chair. “Times are tough and we really want to make sure we’re helping residents stay in the community.”
Murray said the board felt confident there continued to be enough checks and balances to have the program help Canmore residents, while allowing a greater number of residents to apply.
To apply, residents still have to work in the community at least 20 hours a week, be self-employed in Canmore for at least the past six months or be a retiree with five years of Canmore work experience 10 years before retiring.
The home would have to be a primary residence for anyone applying, while applicants would still have to attend a vital homes ownership information session, speak with a lender to get a mortgage pre-qualification, complete an application and make an appointment with CCH staff to submit the application.
“We feel we have enough other criteria that people need to meet to change the income threshold and eliminating the asset test,” Murray said. “The ultimate goal is to keep Canmore residents in the community who live and work here.”
Dougal Forteath, CCH’s managing director, said the board continually decides if amendments to existing programming are needed.
“The board always evaluates the program every year, so market prices have gone up. … We’re looking to best address the need in the community through that amendment,” he said.
The motion was brought forward at the Nov. 3 meeting.
The income threshold will be adjusted annually to match inflation until the 2026 Statistics Canada census is completed and made available.
According to the CCH operations report to the board for its Dec. 1 meeting, as of Oct. 31, the program for people to own a CCH property has a waitlist of 106 and there have been 51 applications in 2022. The turnover year to date in sales of the own program is 17.
The rent program has a waitlist of 78 and received 115 applications this year as of Oct. 31.
The CCH board also approved a motion to create a new program for additional units that will be provided as part of Canadian Rockies School Board’s (CRPS) Lawrence Grassi area redevelopment plan. However, the program is contingent on the number of units that are being negotiated between Town staff and CRPS.
Canmore council approved a motion in September to have Town staff report back to council on the number of units that are negotiated for the CCH residency program prior to transferring a parcel of land to CRPS. A resale price restriction would also be included in the transfer of Town lands.
EXAMINING RETURN OF CCH REQUISITION
During the Town’s Nov. 24 budget session, Coun. Joanna McCallum brought up the potential of having a requisition or bringing back the reserve contribution for CCH to assist with funding the housing organization.
Town staff will return to finance committee in the fall for the 2024 budget deliberations to reassess the potential for a CCH requisition to align with any new programs or priorities.
“We need to realize we’ve been purposely underinvesting over the past few years into the reserve and secondly we need to plan to resource that body more appropriately into the future,” McCallum said of CCH during finance committee budget talks.
With council having identified affordability and the ongoing housing crisis as its top priorities in its strategic plan, it was noted that any and all options should be investigated.
“In the community, the expectation is we have a serious problem and we need to deal with it and more resources and solutions are what people are interested in,” said Coun. Tanya Foubert.
CCH’s annual requisition from the Town is to cover operating expenses and is proposed at $475,000 this year after being approved at $450,000 for 2022. However, last year saw the annual reserve contributions – which was typically $250,000 a year – not take place as CCH helped council offset growing costs coming out of the pandemic.
The Town has requisitions for several services such as Roam transit or the Canmore Public Library, but a specific dedicated requisition from municipal taxes is used for Bow Valley Regional Housing. The education requisition is determined by the province and collected by municipalities. The 2022 budget had $0.53 of every dollar collected go to municipal use, $0.44 for the province’s education tax and $0.03 earmarked for local seniors’ housing.
Mayor Sean Krausert also emphasized the need to look at potential taxation tools to help with any possible CCH requisition.
He suggested an option may be looking at second home ownership in the community and seeing if was a viable option. While the intent wouldn’t be to over-tax one specific group, the aim would ultimately be to help CCH provide community housing.
“I believe there should be higher taxes for those who are using their home for other than a primary residence because it’s contributing to the problem and therefore it should be paying for the problem,” he said.
“I’m not talking drastically different, but it should be something different. It’s seen in many other jurisdictions and that could be a way of funding increases. That’s the type of conversations that need to happen in 2023 to have this discussion a year from now.”