Viewpoint: Co-ops offer housing hope

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By M. CARMICHAEL

Lack of affordable housing and all the dilemmas that it creates in a resort town is a common problem everywhere. I’m a long-time resident of Banff, Alberta and this was a huge issue there as well. 

It is fixable and here’s how some of the businesses in Banff did it, or at least vastly improved the situation.

In the late 1990s the housing problem there became untenable much like it is here now. A group of 14 business owners formed the Rocky Mountain Housing Co-operative (RMHC). The plan was to build a 63-unit apartment complex made up of a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The initial investment, in 1998 dollars, was $10,000 for the studio, $14,000 for the one-bedroom and $20,000 for then two-bedroom units. 

At the time, the land that was available was in the current Banff townsite but held by Parks Canada. Arrangements were made and with their support it was made available to the RMHC on a long-term/perpetual lease.

The business owners, now shareholders in the co-op, began placing staff in the building as soon as it was completed. The rent was and is fixed and favourable to market rates. There is a small office at the front entrance which is staffed in the evenings providing security and there is a manager living on-site. There is no partying, no guests allowed after 11 pm and strictly no overnight guests unless approved by the owners of the unit. 

Tenancy in the co-op is based on employment so as soon as a worker leaves his or her position or is dismissed they must vacate the building. It works very well. 

We have had two units in the past and it was always good to know that our staff, usually younger folks, were in a safe, clean environment.

After 20 years the initial investment was returned to the business owners and they remain as shareholders. If a business has no use for a unit it is returned to the co-op and made available to other businesses to rent and become shareholders as well.

This was so successful that a few years ago phase two was completed with another 60 units that are now fully occupied.

I don’t think that looking to the government for a solution is worthwhile. This needs to be done by the people who have the most to gain and the wherewithal to do it. Of course having said that the government needs to be brought on board and every possibility for cooperation must be realized, whether it’s funding, grants, tax breaks and incentives and even acquiring land, but then it’s up to the stakeholders to do the job.

It took a lot of work and commitment in Banff and just like everywhere there were the nimbys and the nay-sayers, but it just needed to be done and, in the end, it worked.

If anyone is interested in speaking with one of the founding members of the RMHC and learning more about it please contact me through Driftwood editor Gail Sjuberg at news@gulfislandsdriftwood.com.

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