Few options to add more affordable housing

Okotoks: Long waiting lists for social housing program

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 02:53 pm

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Okotoks’ affordable housing situation is getting even tighter with a near zero vacancy rate and little land available for new multi-family housing in town.

It’s a situation that has resulted in rising rental prices and growing wait lists for affordable housing programs available in town.

There doesn’t appear to be much of a remedy until Okotoks completes new growth plans and more land opens op for development.

“The easy answer is we have to wait until annexation because we absolutely have nothing around right now, I don’t know where we would find anything,” said coun. Ed Sands.

Okotoks’ rental vacancy rate has been at zero for more than a year. As well, the price of rents is rising upwards of $1,200 for a one bedroom apartment/condo and as much as more than $2,000 for three bedroom homes.

There also isn’t much land available for new apartment complexes in Okotoks.

The Town ended 2013 with 343 units available for new home construction. The vast majority is for single-family homes and only 36 units are zoned for R-3, or multi-family development.

Sands said rents may go down if more apartments or rental properties are available after annexation is complete. Yet, he also doesn’t want to give false hope the Town will be able to make big moves to improve the affordable housing situation once annexation is complete.

Sands said the Foothills Foundation, which manages affordable housing programs in Okotoks, is in the best position to deal with affordable housing in the community.

“We rely on their expertise,” he said. “Rather than us patching something together is has to be done in consultation with the Foothills Foundation.”

The Foothill Foundation already has more than 40 families on waiting lists and its chief administrative officer said the zero vacancy rate and lack of land for new affordable housing projects mans there isn’t much else it can do

Foundation CAO Lauren Ingalls she said they have used up provincial funding available to build new affordable housing units in Okotoks. As well, she said the foundation has additional funding available to provide as rental subsidies for people as a result of last year’s flood in High River, but there are virtually no rental properties available.

“We can accommodate in the foothills probably another 30 families, but there isn’t any rental stock,” said Ingalls.

The Foothills foundation has 43 people on its waiting lists for affordable housing properties in Okotoks. The foundation maintains nine homes for affordable housing where rent is set at 10 per cent of market rate. All are full and there is a wait list with six families.

The foundation also maintains 19 social housing units where rent is set at 30 per cent of a person’s income. All are full and there is a waiting list of 34, up from 28 in January. Ingalls said the social housing program is for those with the lowest incomes.

The foundation also provides rental supplements to 35 households across the foothills. This number is down due to less rental stock available.

Ingalls said the foundation usually sees families looking for affordable housing, biut it’s now starting to see more individuals looking for affordable housing. She said they aren’t in a position to help single people because the foundation does not have any one-bedroom units.

“We’re starting to see a diversification in the Okotoks market for low-income households, where it’s not just families it’s starting to be low-income individuals too,” said Ingalls.

Coun. Tanya Thorn said there isn’t much that can be done to increase the supply of affordable housing in Okotoks.

She said the cost of living in Okotoks is high for many of the jobs in the commercial and retail sectors that have been created in town in recent years.

“The kind of commercial environment we’re attracting, we’re not attracting an employee that makes $45 an hour,” said Thorn. “We’re attracting the employee that makes $15 an hour. Okotoks doesn’t have the kind of accommodations to keep that employee here.”

She said the only thing the Town may be able to do in the short-term is to make it easier for people to build secondary suites, such as basement suites or suites over garages.

Thorn said the Town needs to diversify its housing supply away from high-end single family housing and estate homes, to be able to provide more affordable options for people.

“As we annex more lands and we’re doing that planning that needs to be factored in of what does that diversification look like, how do we bring in those developers that aren’t going to sell townhouses at $400,000,” she said.

Thorn also said the Town is in a good position to address the issue of affordable housing as it grows. When more land becomes available, she said the Town could look at things like incentives for developers to build more rental properties.

“I don’t think we can close the door on any idea that potentially brings more affordable housing, more diversified housing and more rental opportunities,” she said.


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