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COMMENTARY: The importance of housing partnerships

In a market where the average price of a single-family home is well over $1,000,000.

In a market where the average price of a single-family home is well over $1 million, I am sure that it comes as no surprise that we need to more effectively address the provision of housing and conversations around development and growth management in our community.

Canmore’s affordability issue is not just about housing or the pressures from a supply and demand imbalance in the market, but rather that we are critically underserved from a housing perspective and not looking at the entire picture.

Over the last 15 years, we have seen an average growth rate of 1.98 per cent, according to a Statistics Canada report, of Canmore’s population with a significant rise in median income from $57,000 in 2001 to nearly $92,000 in 2019, per the Bow Valley regional housing needs assessment.

The predicament of those two impacts is that it is paired with a significant reduction in permanent residents beginning in 2016 only exacerbating the affordability gap. The 2011 comprehensive housing plan needs an update to respond to these statistical shifts. Housing and homeownership serves to ingrain dignity as an individual, couple or family and is a vital component of a stable labour force with consistent incomes that support local shops and services.

Canmore’s basic living wage calculations from 2017-20 increased by 36 per cent for a two-income, two-child household. Without an increase in housing supply of all types – market/non-market/staff accommodation/vital housing/multi-generational housing – in this marketplace, there will continue to be uncertainty and significant variability with regards to staffing, operating hours and ability to keep doors open for all business owners.

Fundamentally, managed growth and new housing supports the livelihoods of this community’s residents. Without growth comes economic stagnation and continued upward pressure on housing prices that often exceed the consumer price index by two to seven times, with Canmore apartment-style condos now more expensive than Whistler, B.C., stated in the 2019 Bow Valley regional housing needs assessment.

A community that provides options for its residents as their needs change is vital. If we want Canmore to be a place that allows citizens from all walks of life to thrive, then we must address the ‘move up’ product market and pricing that is attached to that product. A recent survey in Banff indicated that most seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible and I would anticipate the same here in Canmore.

Age cohorts between 65-84 are the fastest growing share of new growth, but when they need to transition to other forms of housing – supportive or not – will there be capacity and options for them to remain in the Bow Valley?

A comprehensive review is needed of both undeveloped and underdeveloped lands to coincide with the recent outdoor recreation infrastructure study. Just like outdoor recreation, the development of residential, commercial and strategic industrial projects is a huge generator of employment and economic activity.

Our municipal development plan helps guide town decision-making, but without developable land and more compact forms of housing, such as multi-residential, mixed-use and row housing, this will be nearly impossible in the short- and long-term without addressing where and how the town will grow and allow places for new development or redevelopment to occur.

Canmore Community Housing and Bow Valley Regional Housing must play a role, but so to must our jurisdictional partners in the province. It’s well past time to convene the room to find pragmatic and demonstratable approaches to this.

Factors that impact housing are as diverse and complex as the species of flora and fauna in the Bow Valley, thereby requiring strategic partnerships and participation from government, industry and the broader community. No one entity can solve this problem alone, just as no one entity will reap the benefits of growth and development.

As we embark upon a more inclusive and reasonable solution for housing, it will be incumbent on us all to be fair, transparent and empower our elected officials and administration to make tough decisions as housing affordability is an interconnected and complex issue. Will we continue down a path of constrained supply or will we choose to responsibly unlock lands to permit development throughout the area to respond to the needs of our residents today and for future generations.

Ian O’Donnell is the executive director of the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association