CBC News – Calgary, Nov 20, 2015 –
Finding affordable housing can be difficult in many parts of Alberta. But nowhere is it more challenging than in the Bow Valley, where the vacancy rate sits at zero per cent. In the fifth part of a week-long series, CBC Calgary’s Evelyne Asselin looks at what Banff is trying to do.
Banff is a beautiful place to visit and to live but it has some unique issues around its lack of affordable housing.
The average rent in Banff is $1200 a month. But Banffites make less than their friends in other Canadian resort towns.
According to an economic prosperity report issued in May 2014, Banff’s median income was $40,620, which is 37 per cent less than other Albertans, and 13 per cent less than their peers in other resort areas.
“We are designing our own way, we’ve done a lot of work, we’ve done a lot of research and it’s coming out in the strategy. So we have a very clear direction of what we need to do and how to do it,” said Sharon Oakley, coordinator of Banff’s housing sustainability.
Whistler has affordability problems and overcrowding rentals according to the Canadian Rental Housing Index.
The average rent is $1,463, roughly $200 more than in Banff.
Jasper’s situation is quite similar to Banff in terms of affordability while Fernie, Revelstoke and Mont Tremblant all have average rents under $900 a month.
Banff studies solutions
The Town of Banff interviewed key people with other resort towns to understand how they were trying to solve their similar issues. It’s part of what was used to draft the town’s Community Housing Strategy adopted by the council in 2014.
The town also has building restrictions that limit growth. Buildings are capped at three storeys.
“Nobody has the exact same parameters, challenges, opportunities that Banff does. We can go to Jasper, we can go to Whistler, we can go to Squamish, we can look at all the things that they do but we are not comparing apples to apples,” said Oakley.
Need to reside
Banff is one of the rare cases in Canada being a town in a national park. Only Jasper has the same statues. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)
Banff is inside a national park with set boundaries and a need to reside rule was implemented in the 1960’s — before it became a town.
To own a house and live in it, or to rent a place in Banff, you need to prove you work there or comply to the eligibility requirements.
The strategy works well according to Banff National Park field unit superintendent David McDonough, “It’s a tool that has been effective over the years, it helps ensure that people who live here, need to live here for work … and that’s been an important part of this strategy.”
However there have been rumours in the town about whether the eligibility requirement is enforced.
Investigations by Parks Canada aren’t public for privacy concerns and McDonough won’t confirm the number of files they are working on or how many people failed to comply.
“If issues are brought to our attention, we investigate those issues and we even have a number of files on the go right now,” said McDonough. “If there’s a problem with compliance … they may chose to move out of the park. Often it’s a misconception.”