It is disappointing for anyone who has followed the housing issues in Canmore for the past four decades to see the Mountain Haven Cooperative Homes project ultimately fail to deliver on its mandate.
Those behind Mountain Haven were some of the first people in the community to shine a spotlight on the fact that Canmore had a housing crisis brewing long before any municipal officials decided they had a role to play with solutions or long-term planning.
Those quixotic visionaries of the cooperative recognized early on there was a need to provide housing options to members of our community that could not afford to purchase their own Canmore home – and this was in the 1990s, long before the average price of single family homes even tipped the scales toward the six figure mark like it currently does.
They fought hard and while they won the battle to obtain land and funding to build the housing, circumstances around the deals struck eventually won out over the efforts to keep this 44-unit housing project as it was originally envisioned. There were a lot of strings attached to make Mountain Haven a reality and these conditions made it practically impossible for people to purchase homes.
We are not here to play the blame game, however, there are plenty of reasons why all involved were part of the cooperative’s recent transition to the municipality’s perpetually affordable housing (CCHC) program.
While the land, which is owned by the Town of Canmore, and the housing units remain a part of the inventory of affordable housing and that is a good thing, it no longer meets the original intent and that is a loss to the community.
Canmore has added zero low-income or subsidized housing to its inventory since the early 90s. Yes, there is PAH and some 250 units have been built in the last
12 years, but like many squeaky wheels in the community like to point out, it really depends on how you define affordable – the program does not work for everyone.
The PAH program was and remains geared toward middle-income residents and families in the community. That is a far different segment of the population with different needs than those in the lower income brackets for whom the cooperative was an option.
Mountain Haven units that were available as rentals are likely to be sold in the future and the transactions used to replenish $4.2 million taken out of the bank for CCHC to purchase the 17 rental units.
Middle-income earners searching to purchase a home in Canmore are better off as a result, but those looking for lower rental rates in an incredibly expensive market are not.
While we lament the loss of low-income options for housing in the community, we are left wondering why the organization tasked with overseeing and developing seniors and social housing in the Bow Valley has not yet released its highly anticipated housing needs study.
Perhaps this is another example of a government-funded study that remains under lock and key until it is convenient for officials to make it public, like the Bow River flood hazard assessment by the province, or the mass transit feasibility study by the Town of Banff?
One of the reasons why the Bow Valley Regional Housing study is absolutely essential at this point in time is because as a community we need a far better understanding than currently exists around lower income housing needs.
Without any new inventory added in more than 20 years and the loss of Mountain Haven’s inventory geared toward the lower end of the income spectrum, we need as a community to do better for this segment of the population. Otherwise we can expect the number of people living out of their vans to keep increasing, businesses to suffer from acute labour shortages and low income housing waitlists to get longer with no relief in sight other than leaving town.