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Town of Canmore purchases first employee housing property

“That can be a real barrier and we’ve had that with several employees who want to come, but to get in the housing market is hard.”

CANMORE – The Town of Canmore has their first property for employee housing.

The Town formally took possession of 7 Larch Crescent March 28 after council approved up to $1.5 million in funding for the house with five units.

Sally Caudill, the Town’s CAO, said the opportunity arose late last year to purchase the home for staff housing.

“This house presented a unique opportunity. … It’s a bit of an experiment in what staff need and what the best way to manage it will be,” she said. “We’re also figuring that out as we go. It might help get people who want to come for positions a place to land and then look for a place of their own.

“That can be a real barrier and we’ve had that with several employees who want to come, but to get in the housing market is hard.”

According to the land title, the formal transfer of land took place March 27, 2024, for $1.378 million and the Town took possession the next day.

Canmore council went in camera for 33 minutes on Dec. 5, 2023, to discuss a land matter. The public motion was to create a new capital project – Town land acquisition – for $1.5 million to come from the general capital reserve.

Similar to all businesses throughout the valley, municipalities aren’t immune to staff struggling to find secure long-term housing. With the greatest concern for employees being finding housing, the purchase provides five units for employees.

Long-term, the property also presents a promising possibility for options.

The house is nestled in between two Bow Valley Regional Housing (BVRH) properties on either side of it. Caudill said before the COVID-19 pandemic the Town and province had discussions of using provincially-owned land, but it largely fizzled out because of the pandemic.

Though several years away and no ongoing discussions, it is a “long-term opportunity” and purchasing the house was “really about securing it for long-term future potential," with it having potential for a space for larger density between the public organizations.

She said the Town has let both BVRH and the province know it owns the parcel and has updated the province when they have talks about Palliser lands.

Caudill said the first work was removing fruit-bearing trees on site and has worked with PEKA property management to assist in renting the house to Town staff.

She noted they had some talks with Canmore Community Housing (CCH) – which has rental management experience and is an arm’s length organization from the Town – but it was in the middle of its own transformation as well as taking on new larger projects in the Palliser area and Stewart Creek.

“We don’t have expertise in property rental. PEKA obviously does, so we work with local companies, asked them to bid on the work and awarded it to PEKA,” Caudill said. “They have the expertise. ... We don’t have a property management department or experience. … It was better having PEKA, given their experience.”

Two people moved in May 22 and the other units are expected to be filled July 1, Caudill said. PEKA also did an initial survey of Town staff to find out who may be interested.

Staff employee housing is relatively common in the valley for both the public and private sectors.

The Town of Banff has 30 units in its employee housing inventory, including two bachelor, 13 one-bedroom, 11 two-bedroom, three three-bedroom units and one four-bedroom unit.

The unit costs are below market value.

Town of Banff employees aren’t expected to stay in employee housing during their careers, but there’s no established threshold for the timing.

Banff Town staff have created initiatives to help employees transition from employee housing to the local housing market such as a matching no-interest loan to help with buying their first home in the valley.

The Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission approved the purchase of a common amenity unit in 2023 in Teepee Town. The intent is to help provide staff accommodation for drivers, with the transit authority struggling to find enough people for previous summers.

Canmore council approved roughly $257,000 – $100,000 from commission reserves and about $157,000 for a capital project from the Integrated Transportation Management Reserve – for its share of housing held by Roam transit.

The housing is split four ways between Improvement District No. 9, Town of Banff, Town of Canmore and general commission funds. The units will be managed and operated by the transit commission.

As part of the Lawrence Grassi Middle School area redevelopment plan, five of the employee rental units could potentially be used for Town and CCH staff but would still be years away as the project is built out.

In the private sector, several businesses in the region have their own staff accommodation to aid in finding and retaining employees.

Caudill said there’s nothing on the horizon for other potential purchases, but the Town will be looking to complete a survey to better understand staff housing needs.

“Right now, everything we know about staff housing is anecdotal. We don’t really have any data and a way to hear from staff what the challenges are and what would be most useful for them,” she said. “After we get some survey data, we can create a plan of how we might house our own staff and what the next best steps are to do that. It’ll likely be multipronged.”

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