Banff’s politicians and planners are trying to tackle a critical housing shortfall for employees who serve the businesses in the tourist town.
As part of the Land Use Bylaw review, the municipality proposes making businesses that have to supply “required housing” build only housing types that would meet the needs of entry-level staff.
Town officials say overcrowding in homes is a real concern – and some say the housing problem will simply get worse once the economy turns around and businesses need more staff.
“We deem overcrowding is an issue in the community,” said Darren Enns, senior planner for the Town of Banff and project leader for the LUB review.
“We know health authorities are enforcing non-compliant living conditions and so that tells us there’s a housing problem.”
At a meeting on July 18, council gave administration direction to draft regulatory language for their future consideration that would essentially stipulate the type of ‘required housing’ to be built.
It would require businesses to build apartment-style housing or basement suites, this way, the bedrooms being built actually become available for use by entry-level service workers, rather than being part of a large single-family home.
Since 2001, the Town has required new commercial development, or redevelopment that constitutes intensification, to provide new housing.
Another option has been a cash-in-lieu payment, currently set at $21,000 per bedroom, which is set aside for Banff Housing Corporation capital projects.
In the last five years, an average of $17,000 per year has been collected from housing cash-in-lieu payments, while remaining credits have been met through construction of new bedrooms.
The LUB review team says they believe the housing requirement was instituted to mitigate housing pressures created by commercial expansion.
They say this suggests that the housing units created as a result of these regulations were intended to target those employed through commercial intensification, such as service sector staff.
The current LUB, however, does not stipulate the quality, size, location or any other material aspect of bedrooms that are eligible for housing credit.
This has resulted in bedrooms being built for LUB credit which will never be used to house those most in need, and the review team says when this occurs ‘we have arguably missed the mark’.
“It’s our belief the provision for providing housing associated with commercial development was for employee housing,” said Enns.
A group of Banff’s most prominent businesses unsuccessfully tried to convince council to refer all housing issues to do with the Land Use Bylaw to a working group that’s being established.
Lawyer Eric Harvie, who is representing their interests, says Banff is losing its entrepreneurial business class due to high start-up costs.
“Municipal housing costs of $21,000 per bedroom is one of the primary costs that can reach into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.
“Municipal housing costs, in reality, have become a type of growth management.”
Harvie said larger businesses, including national formula businesses with established financing, can absorb higher start-up costs to a point.
“We have to be cautious that the proposed Land Use Bylaw changes do not shift the entire housing supply burden onto businesses and create a situation that actually hurts local businesses while not solving the housing shortage,” he said.
“The question that should be put to a working committee is what is the formula that gets housing built, but does not smother business start ups?”
Councillor Stavros Karlos said housing has been an issue for years, and continues to be one.
“We have a problem in town and no one is building rental development,” he said.
“If we do have a turnaround in the economy, we’ll have a major problem. We do already have a housing problem.”
Mayor Karen Sorensen asked whether incentives could be considered to encourage businesses to build apartment-style housing and accessory dwellings for entry-level employees.
“Or is another developer out there prepared to do this if we give them the same assistance we give to the BHC?” she said. “The BHC has no plans to build for the next three years.”
Councillor Paul Baxter, the chairman of the BHC’s board of directors, cautioned his fellow councillors on the mayor’s remarks.
“With this conversation, there’s a lot of consequences here,” he said. “To potentially allocate money from the BHC to another developer is really just going to open up a hornet’s nest.”
Alberta Health Services does enforce non-compliant living conditions, but they say last time a property was completely shut down was in 2007.