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'Timing is critical' for Canmore council's housing initiatives

“We want to make sure they’re done well and we’ve taken a look at different possibilities and sussed out how a program or programs will work, the details with upcoming costs, the impact on various property owners. That means we need expertise hired and resources used and I think this money will be well spent in the long run.”

CANMORE – An influx of $550,000 will be drawn from municipal reserves to push forward with the Town of Canmore’s Housing Action Plan.

Council approved the funding at its Tuesday (May 7) meeting to help its ongoing initiatives that could see the tourist home designation phased out, a tax structure to encourage purpose-built rentals created and a method to incentivize full-time and long-term occupancy in the community.

The money will be used to cover consulting services, adding temporary finance staff and aiding in external legal costs in developing programs for council consideration.

“We want to make sure they’re done well and we’ve taken a look at different possibilities and sussed out how a program or programs will work, the details with upcoming costs, the impact on various property owners,” said Mayor Sean Krausert. “That means we need expertise hired and resources used and I think this money will be well spent in the long run.”

There will be $300,000 for consulting services, $200,000 for finance staff backfilling and $125,000 for external legal costs.

The main aspects come from the recommendations council accepted from the Livability Task Force last January. The task force was directed to create recommendations on plans to phase out the tourist home designation, incentivize full-time and long-term occupancy and look at a tax structure to encourage purpose-built rental units.

Council previously approved last year $200,000 for consulting and legal fees to aid in potential policy changes related to housing.

A staff report noted the first phase was funded by the $200,000, but the second phase of creating a program to incentivize full-time occupancy, programs to encourage purpose-built rentals and phase out tourist homes required more money to implement the recommendations through February 2025.

The third phase will be ongoing and is anticipated to start March 2025 to maintain the programs possibly established from the second phase.

“Each piece of work requires the support and involvement of multiple Town departments. Departments are not resourced to take on this volume of new and significant work … This is necessary so we can apply the new property tax approaches for the 2025 property tax cycle,” stated a staff report.

“Additionally, much of this work will influence the 2025-2026 budget and will need to be ready for consideration as part of the budget process in the fall of 2024. Timelines are aggressive; however, we are confident this work can be achieved with this additional resourcing.”

Therese Rogers, the Town’s general manager of corporate services, said other municipalities such as Toronto and Vancouver have similar programs in place, giving Canmore an opportunity to learn from them.

Rogers said initial findings will return to a future committee of the whole meeting to receive council input. The aim is to have any potential programs return for possible council approval at the budget in the fall along with associated operating costs.

A potential subclass for permanent residents may be an option rather than offering a rebate program since research has shown the latter is two to three times the amount of work compared to the former, Rogers said. Residents could declare for the subclass, but with roughly 13,000 tax rolls and the majority residential, more research is needed before being brought to council.

She noted the consulting services hired will aid in developing programming, particularly given the “complex property tax approach.”

Coun. Tanya Foubert said it was important work and key in reaching council’s strategic goals and objectives.

“How we do it becomes important, so we’re creating the solutions and not programs that perhaps have unintended consequences that become more complex to administer to get the benefit from. … We’re already identifying that and we’re moving towards the solution, so to me this is a really good check-in point,” she said.

Any potential changes by the Town wouldn’t include the roughly 900-1,300 tourist homes in the Three Sisters Village or Smith Creek area structure plans due to the Land and Property Rights Tribunal ordering the Town to approve the plans as submitted in 2021.

As part of the Housing Action Plan, council directed staff to look at options for a comprehensive planning process for infill housing and potentially eliminating construction of single-family homes.

Canmore’s Housing Action Plan was approved by council last June as part of its application for the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund. Canmore was denied its application for the federal housing fund, with 544 applications being made across the country and 179 approved.

The fund launched as a $4 billion nationwide initiative administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Though the funds were exhausted, the federal government pumped an additional $400 million in its 2024 budget last month.

The latest federal budget included a $6 billion infrastructure fund, but it would come with the same stipulations as the original funding.

In Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation’s 10 best practices to receive funding, ending exclusionary zoning, eliminating or reducing parking standards, increasing processing efficiency and improving development processes are listed.

When announcing the Town of Banff’s $4.66 million from the Housing Accelerator Fund, federal housing minister Sean Fraser emphasized any municipality that had applied for funding needed to be “among the very most ambitious.”

Several municipalities across the country such as London, Kingston, Calgary, Banff and Edmonton made additional council-approved changes to improve the likelihood of successful funding.

Coun. Wade Graham highlighted the importance of the work in having an effect on the community.

“The timing is critical of this and the sooner we get this done the more impact we can have. … I really look forward to doing this well, doing it right and doing this quickly,” he said.

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