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EDITORIAL: All options should be explored to add housing

EDITORIAL: One of the most polarizing topics in the Bow Valley is underutilized housing supply.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

One of the most polarizing topics in the Bow Valley is underutilized housing supply.

As communities across the world tackle the ongoing issues surrounding housing, those in the valley are no different.

Both Banff and Canmore have launched housing action plans in the hopes of federal dollars being dropped from the heavens in the coming months.

Each municipality has moved to address other issues such as allowing greater density, exploring and approving high level area plans and reviewing soon-to-be land use bylaw amendments.

While Banff is largely protected by federal legislation in residents requiring a need to reside, Canmore isn’t as fortunate. As one of the sole places on the Alberta side of the Canadian Rockies where people can live and not be required to work, Canmore has seen a surge in non-resident homeownership.

Town of Canmore statistics have 26 per cent of homes being non-owner occupied compared to eight per cent in the rest of Alberta, according to Statistics Canada.

In potential new policy, Canmore council directed municipal staff to prepare a plan for phasing out tourist homes and taxing vacant homes, with any money collected likely to go into ways to address affordability.

While the possibility of a vacant home tax is promising, it’s far from the single solution but has proven to be a small cog in the housing supply machine.

According to Canmore’s tax information, 4.4 per cent or 611 units were tourist homes in 2022. Though a relatively small amount in the big picture, 587 apartment rental units in Canmore as of 2022 highlights the significance of even a few dozen units going to the residential side.

The 2019 Bow Valley region housing needs assessment found by 2027, valley communities needed roughly 1,100 additional units of non-market housing. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the housing need has only exploded.

In Ontario, a vacant home tax exists in large population centres such as Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, while other areas like Windsor, Halton Region and Oakville are considering such a move or have already had councils approve it. A move, though, requires provincial permission to come into effect.

British Columbia’s speculation and vacancy tax permits 59 authorized municipalities to collect money on vacant homes and the federal government’s underused housing tax has a similar strategy.

When first considered by the cities of Toronto and Vancouver, it was largely seen as political gesturing. But early indications for Toronto show some housing – in the hundreds – coming back to the market and Vancouver has had a couple thousand become available.

A financial windfall has also aided both with 10s of millions being collected annually by both metropolitan urban centres.

Of course, Toronto and Vancouver are far different than significantly smaller Canmore, but it highlights a measure that could be used to help local housing needs.

It can also open a pandora’s box, particularly when a person’s property rights are challenged – a lesson the Town learned throughout years of legal actions between it and Three Sisters Mountain Village Properties Limited.

Any attempt to amend existing area structure plans that allow tourist homes is best left for another fight. A presentation to council Jan. 9 all but ensured there would likely be a legal challenge at some point if such policy is approved.

As a tourism community – with tourism as the main financial driver – there’s also a clear economic impact when people not in the community use a tourist home.

But without necessary housing for a workforce, there’s a greater economic desperation that can ensue as businesses saw at different times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a time when there’s no greater concern in many communities across the world than housing, all options have to be looked at.

It doesn’t necessarily mean an option will be approved or successfully move forward, but finding information on what could potentially help is always an exercise worth undertaking.

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