YWCA housing project approved by MPC

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New affordable housing at Banff’s YWCA has been given the green light.

On Thursday (Dec. 24), the Municipal Planning Commission approved a $7.7 million mixed-use development of nine hostel units for transitional housing and 24 apartment units at the Y’s Spray Avenue property.

“The development would make an impact on the clearly stated need to increase housing in Banff,” said Jennifer Laforest, a planner with the Town of Banff.

Banff’s 2012 housing study predicted a shortfall of between 450-730 housing units by 2020. Affordable rental housing was identified as the key priority in addressing the crunch.

The YWCA currently houses 103 residents, with anywhere from 40 to 100 people on a waiting list at any given time.

Dubbed the Courtyard Project, the development will add 33 affordable housing units to Y’s current inventory, including 24 self-contained, apartment-style studio, one and two-bedroom spaces, and nine hostel units ideal for families or individuals.

Criteria for potential residents would include, though not exclusively, new and extended families, women and individuals with accessibility needs, with the common thread of applicants being lower income earners.

Steve Crotty, the Y’s director of operations, said the new housing units will be designed for residents who face barriers to finding suitable rental accommodation in Banff.

He said rents for the units will be influenced by the expectations of funders, with a goal of achieving rates that fall 10 to 20 per cent below market value, which is consistent with the organization’s existing housing program.

“We focus on affordability,” he said, noting some residents have been at the Y for five, 10, 12 years. “We’ve raised our rents three times in the last 10 to 12 years.”

The YWCA is seeking the majority of funding from both federal and provincial governments.

Councillor Chip Olver, one of council’s representatives on MPC, welcomed the new development.

“The Y does have a history of providing housing in our community that dates back to 1905 when they had units on Muskrat Street,” she said. “The focus on affordability is fabulous and very needed in our community. Transition housing is very much needed.”

Crotty said the hostel units would allow the Y to house people for up to 28 days while more suitable housing is found.

“We’re going to be able to put people in positions where they can take that next step and move into different housing solutions, whether it’s into the market, or employee housing or other housing solutions,” he said.

Bill Fisher, board chair of the Banff Canmore Community Foundation, voiced strong support for the project.

“It meets the needs of so many of the issues in the Bow Valley – transitional housing, affordable housing,” he said. “It would not only benefit the Town of Banff and its residents, but the entire Bow Valley.”

The Y purchased the former Mineral Springs Hospital on Spray Avenue in 1987. A staff accommodation development was added in 1990 and several small renovations undertaken between 1991 and 2000.

A redevelopment in 2007 saw the addition of a storey for the existing main lodge and construction of the Oreo building. The most recent development permit saw transformation of the laundry building into a community day care – Puzzles Daycare.

The Y hopes to break ground on the project in summer 2018.

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