By Cole Parkinson
After Municipal District of Taber council had approved co-funding a regional housing needs assessment in late 2017, the results were brought back to council to discuss.
During council’s meeting on Oct. 10, 2017, they had passed a motion to approve $23,000 in funding for a regional housing needs assessment and project feasibility analysis being undertaken by Taber and District Housing Foundation.
With the Town of Taber and Taber and District Housing Foundation providing the rest of the funding, the financials coming back show the study was under budget by a large margin.
“The total amount of work was right around $23,000 which means about $7,500 and 20 per cent of the funds committed by the M.D. of Taber were used, that is all we needed to get to this point,” explained Tim Janzen, Taber and District Housing CAO at the M.D.’s regular meeting on Jan. 29.
To complete the study, the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) was retained to complete the project.
“Their research staff analyzed 2011 and 2016 census data from Stats Canada, as well information was gathered from AHS (Alberta Health Services) which is normally used to determine future health care needs in a community. ARDN received real estate information from the Town of Taber economic development office and the M.D. economic development department provided rental information for the M.D. and communities within the M.D.,” said Janzen.
One of the more pressing needs coming from the report was the cost of housing in the Taber area.
Renting in Taber has average rents for bachelor at $525, one-bedroom at $635, two-bedroom at $771 and three-bedrooms at $940.
Median rental shelter cost from the 2016 census was $882 and it stated a required wage to maintain affordability is $18.38 per hour for renting.
“One area that I think should have more investigation is average rents. One of the things we’ve found, particularly in Taber proper, was that there were two distinct rental markets. There were high-end properties that tend to have higher amenities, likely not affordable for many single person households, almost zero vacancies. Then there were properties at the lower end of the spectrum, generally older and smaller. According to some of the information session attendees, not in great shape. They tend to be more affordable but there are questions about suitability, either size or due to conditions. The vast majority of vacancies in Taber are attributed to the lower end properties,” added Janzen.
Meanwhile, owning a home in Taber and area has a median value of $250,464 according to the 2016 census, income required to qualify for a mortgage is at $50,700, median owner shelter cost from the 2016 census is at $1,215 and a required wage to maintain affordability is at $25.30.
“How do we make Taber and area housing more affordable? We think of affordable housing as housing where rent is maybe 50 per cent of the market. I think the general public thinks more of affordable housing being affordable as can you go out and buy a home? Or can you pay rent on a place? I think both are important, they do represent very different markets,” stated Janzen. “Affordable housing guidelines say that shelter costs should not be more than 20 per cent of a household’s income. If they do, the household is referred to being in core housing need. The needs assessment determined that 18 per cent of homeowners and renters in Taber and area are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter. Households that pay rents are often paying a greater percentage than those who own homes.”
The affordable housing strategy offered four different recommendations, the first being to take inventory and assess total renter and owner markets in Taber and area.
“This process would require a significant investment in administrative time to research local properties,” said Janzen. “The goal would be to ensure accurate information about the housing rental market and owner market.”
The second was to evaluate homelessness in Taber.
“Unlike urban areas, homelessness in Taber doesn’t likely present itself by having street people. Rather, it involves people couch surfing, living with friends or family on an informal or temporary basis. These individuals, by our basis, are not being housed appropriately or affordably housed. We see clients living like this on a weekly basis, they may not be sleeping under a tree in the park but there are plenty of people who live year-round in campers, and they don’t live in those arrangements by choice generally,” continued Janzen.
The third was to increase the supply of affordable housing, high-density housing and starter homes in Taber and area and the fourth was to address commuter flow in the town of Taber.
“Even 10 years ago, there were over 1,000 people leaving Taber to go work somewhere else. In a 10 year period, it has swung almost 1,000 people the other way and I don’t really know why. I don’t know if we have to know why but I think it might be useful to figure out if that is what we want,” said Janzen. “The concept of this project is to meet the need of any resident of Taber and area that may require affordable housing.”
As part of the assessment, an affordable housing project consisting of a two-story building approximately 18,000 sq. feet was looked at.
The building would feature 20 affordable housing units which would be six bachelor suites and 14 one-bedrooms, ten market housing units which would be six one-bedrooms and four two-bedrooms and a 1,500 sq. feet commercial space.
Total cost was projected at $5.35 million which would include $500,000 for a purchase of suitable land.
With that project still further down the road, Janzen was asking M.D. council to continue to work with Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber economic development offices, use the remaining previously allocated funds for further consultant work with ARDN, additional consultation with health and service agencies/local employers, discussions with potential tenants and further design work and financial feasibility study, find and secure an appropriate site/sites and for support (moral and financial) from local government to find a local solution to the affordable housing issues in Taber and area.
Some on council though were worried about getting the needed funding.
“Sadly, the problem is going to come down to funding. Where do we find some funding, federally, provincially or locally?” asked Coun. Brian Brewin.
He also asked what exactly would be needed from council moving forward.
“We’ve got a lot of good information but I think there is a lot of information we don’t know what it exactly means. What I hope to do is, we only spent 20 per cent of what you approved, I’d like permission to continue on and spend a little more of it to get into the next layer of information,” said Janzen. “My ask is to be able to keep working with Kirk and if we do more consultant work, the money we haven’t spent might still be available to cover those costs.”
Coming from the report though, Brewin wasn’t sure going further down the study path would be beneficial based on the current report.
“I’m not sure the report you gave us recognizes a need,” he said.
Others on council though stated the need to continue.
“Do I feel that there is a concern for social housing and in order to continue to help our community and farming area grow? I would say there is. I would support some additional funding to continue to flesh out what that looks like. To take the very basic level, sure there is housing but if I toured you on the housing, you probably wouldn’t put your own family in those and certainly not at $15 an hour,” said Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga.
M.D. director of planning and economic development Kirk Hughes also stated when in talks with potential businesses looking to set up shop in the M.D., one of their first asks were around the housing situations in the area.
Miyanaga put forth a motion that Taber and District housing continue to work with economic development and with the JEDC as they move forward to research housing and to determine how to solve the greatest housing needs and social housing in the M.D. and communities in the M.D. in a fiscally responsible manner up to no further than the allocated amount.
“I’d like to see a letter exactly knowing what that is prior to of what the objectives are. I’ll be honest, I’m confused about what you want here. Something in writing we could support would be a lot better for us. I don’t disagree, I’m just not 100 per cent what you are after here,” stated Brewin.
While a friendly amendment was put forward, Miyanaga declined to add it to the motion put forward.
“I think it is clear what the motion is,” added Miyanaga.
The motion was carried by a 6-1 vote with the lone opposing vote coming from Brewin.