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Regional Bow Valley study examines complexity, interconnectedness of housing

“As this ecosystem continues to evolve, we see the potential for diversification and expansion of partners, resources and providers to better meet the wide range of housing needs within our community.”
The sun rises over Bow Valley in 2019. RMO FILE PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – A new study by a community organization is highlighting the complexity and interconnectedness of housing in the Bow Valley.

The Banff Canmore Foundation (BCF) released its Bow Valley Vital Signs report on housing, focusing on the difficult and arduous task ahead for communities addressing local needs.

Erin Woods, the project lead, said the valley’s housing ecosystem is not only inter-connected but also spoke to the importance of understanding “how complex the system is.”

She said multiple elements are impacted by housing such as mental health-related issues, climate change, food insecurity, cost of living and social participation.

“There’s the idea of intertwined, inter-related nature of the housing system itself and then the other piece of it is how connected it is to many other issues we care about such as mental health, pollution, living wage,” she said. “On one hand, I’d say there’s benefit in really sitting in the complexity and on the other hand to not allow ourselves to get paralyzed by it.

“We could spend an awful lot of time with an awful lot of analysis and by the time we figured it out the problem has changed. … I think it’s an interesting balance between understanding the complexity and being willing to act in the uncertainty.”

Woods noted the housing crisis may seem easy, but “it’s not just a matter of building more affordable housing. It’s really much more complicated than that.”

BCF struck a housing and affordable working group last summer with board, committee and staff members to explore housing in the Bow Valley.

It used existing research to raise awareness about the challenges, opportunities and complexity of housing in the valley.

“Over the last two years, Banff Canmore Foundation has been learning about the Bow Valley housing system and probing for ways to shift the dynamics in favour of community vitality and sustainability,” stated the study.

“As this ecosystem continues to evolve, we see the potential for diversification and expansion of partners, resources and providers to better meet the wide range of housing needs within our community.”

The study used the wheelhouse model, previously developed by the City of Kelowna, to explore housing as a whole from emergency shelters, rental housing, market and non-market and long-term supportive housing.

When analyzing the Bow Valley, it noted the majority of housing being built or anticipated to be constructed is market housing.

As part of the study, the iceberg model outlined reacting to issues is often seen, but the patterns and trends, underlying structures and mental models and beliefs are unseen and can cause significant impact.

“Housing costs and housing availability are inextricably linked, with demand well outpacing current supply throughout the Valley. … Throughout the valley, all subsidized, employee, or otherwise below-market units have significant waitlists, leaving many in our community in precarious or unsuitable housing,” stated the study.

In 2019, a regional housing needs assessment study was completed jointly by Bow Valley Regional Housing and Canmore Community Housing.

It projected the valley would need about 1,100 more units of non-market housing by 2027. However, it was released less than a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated the local housing issue.

“The Bow Valley housing ecosystem is impacted by factors from wages and population growth to availability of housing stock and land use policies,” stated the study. “But it is also influenced by our attitudes, beliefs and unintended consequences of interventions which may solve one problem and inadvertently create another.

“As we continue to work as a community to address our housing crisis, we must be mindful of the system in all its complexity, considering both the problem itself and the social mindsets and structures which lie beneath.”

The study noted Banff has 3,200 homes, but a shortfall of 700-1,000 units. In Canmore, there are about 9,200 homes and an existing shortfall of 415 units but is projected to need 1,741 units by 2030.

Statistics in the report – which came from the 2021 federal census – indicated of the 13,335 private residences in Banff, Canmore and the MD of Bighorn between 73 and 89 per cent were used by full-time residents.

The average monthly housing costs were $1,820-$1,940 for owners and $1,480-$1,758 for renters. The median household income for owners is $113,000-$125,000 and $77,500-$84,000 for renters.

Woods said rather than looking at housing as a linear line, it should be thought of as a circle where people start at one spectrum as a child, become a renter, a homeowner, potentially downsize and then move into seniors' housing.

“When you think of a vital and thriving community, it has people in all various stages of life,” she said.

“It really ties into the idea of a connected committed community.”

She highlighted there may be available forms of housing in Calgary, but for people who have lived much of their lives in the Bow Valley, a need to stay locally is preferred.

“Do we have a diverse enough inventory to house the people that it takes to make a vital community and I think clearly the answer is not exactly,” Woods said.

The study’s conclusion noted additional collaboration was vital, but financial assistance and creative ideas were equally important.

The study stated BCF is working to build partnerships, pilot new ideas and utilize resources to assist the community in housing.

BCF is launching a social impact fund, incubating a social enterprise model to help house employees, collaborating with organizations to possibly create strategies for endowments and reviewing what has worked in other mountain communities.

“The foundation is exploring a couple of things such as … embarking on research to find out what other models could we experiment with in the valley,” Woods said. “Are there current legislative or other rules and regulations that allow us to experiment with those and what changes could we advocate for?”

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