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Banff signs deal with feds amid affordable housing crisis

Municipalities were invited to apply for the fund and present a plan to ramp up construction in their communities
The federal government says it has completed housing agreements in six small and rural communities in Alberta, including Banff. Smoke haze from forest fires burning in Alberta and British Columbia hangs over the town in Banff National Park, Friday, July 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A busy Alberta tourist town in Banff National Park has signed an agreement with the federal government to support its plan to deal with the ongoing affordable housing crisis.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser was in Banff, west of Calgary, on Monday to announce the $4.6-million deal with the mountain municipality.

“Today was an amazing day,” Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno said in an interview.

“We are so grateful and so thrilled to be recognized as having ambitious plans to try to stimulate new housing here in Banff.”

Banff is one of six small, rural Alberta communities that are to receive more than $13.8 million from Ottawa through the housing accelerator fund, which offers money in exchange for changes to bylaws and regulations that support more homebuilding.

Municipalities were invited to apply for the fund and present a plan to ramp up construction in their communities.

DiManno said the federal money is helping to inspire some bold changes to Banff’s municipal policies that could include removing parking requirements for new housing developments or increasing the height of residential buildings while being “mindful of these mountain views.”

The town of Banff is nestled in the Rockies in Canada’s busiest national park. It notes on its website that it attracts many of the four million visitors to the park each year.

Housing for its residents, however, has long been an issue.

“In Banff, we are effectively at zero per cent rental vacancies in town, and we know that we have a shortfall of 700 to 1,000 homes,” DiManno said. “Without a doubt, unavailable and unaffordable housing is the No. 1 issue for our community.”

She said it’s not uncommon to hear stories about people’s struggles to find a place to live.

“It’s quite heartbreaking,” she said.

DiManno said the funding would help with solutions but the town needs to be extra creative because of Parks Canada policies that come with its location in the park.

“Residents are only eligible to live here if they work here,” she said.

“Another policy is that we have our fixed boundary, so it really makes us have to look at our existing land base to try to stimulate housing redevelopment.”

Other communities, for example, could set aside more land to build housing.

“We don’t have that ability here,” said DiManno. “We are very thankful for these policies, but we really have to look inward for solutions.”

The federal government said the five other Alberta communities that have completed housing agreements are Sylvan Lake, Bow Island, Westlock, Smoky Lake and the village of Duchess.

“By working with cities, towns, municipalities, mayors, and all levels of government, we are helping to get more homes built for Canadians at prices they can afford,” Fraser said in a statement.

Some of the solutions they have put forward include increasing the supply of land for housing, changing building density and allowing secondary suites.

The federal government said the six Alberta agreements will accelerate the construction of more than 400 homes in the communities over the next three years and 3,100 homes in the next decade