Original Published on Aug 24, 2022 at 10:07

By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For anyone moving to a small town, housing options are usually pretty limited. Although a quick internet search for houses available in Pincher Creek shows a few dozen up for sale, rental properties are few and far between, leaving many lower- and middle-income individuals and families without places to call home.

During its May 17 meeting, the town’s housing committee brought forward a number of ideas on how to begin addressing the shortage, including defining a formal relationship with the community’s housing management body, the Pincher Creek Foundation; adding the community economic development strategy housing action committee to the housing committee’s list of considerations; and having council appoint individuals to the housing committee, with each member receiving the ability to vote.

Pincher Creek town council discussed the housing committee’s suggestions during its Aug. 3 committee of the whole meeting.

“This housing discussion has been going on for 15 years,” Coun. David Green said. “We have undergone three housing-needs assessments in that time, and the town owns property that would be suitable for multi-family units — and there it sits.”

“I think we have an opportunity,” he continued. “I think it’s there, I think we need to reconsider our options and would certainly encourage council to do that.”

Part of the problem, said Coun. Sahra Nodge, was the overall focus of the housing committee wasn’t clearly communicated in its terms of reference.

“To achieve any one of them [the terms of reference] requires a lot of administrative time and effort and a lot of budgeting if it is a redevelopment of some property,” she continued.

“Those are some significant items, and I think it comes into what is it that we want to get out of the housing discussion — what is it that we need?”

Moving forward with constructing an actual housing development, she added, is better suited for town council than the housing committee because council can directly encourage an environment conducive to developments in the private and non-profit sectors.

CAO Laurie Wilgosh agreed that clearer terms of reference for the housing committee would set the foundation for projects the housing committee could work on.

“At our administrative level we don’t have the capacity to take on this project, so we’d like to more closely define what the mandate for the committee itself is and then how we get the people and the pieces in place to actually pick some projects and get going,” Wilgosh said.

An important consideration in such projects is considering housing as a continuum as opposed to a problem that can be solved piecemeal, added community services director La Vonne Rideout.

“We need to be looking at housing holistically and not just in little bits and pieces,” Rideout said. “It’s not just affordable housing, it’s not just workforce housing, but it’s housing across a continuum.”

Economic development officer Marie Everts said efforts in revamping the land-use bylaw, revitalizing the downtown core and upgrading town recreation facilities are a part of that continuum but that more measurable action in the short-term is required.

“I’m seeing a critical time for our businesses not being able to house their employees,” she said.

“For many, many years I’ve been hearing us say this is a priority, but I’m not sure if we’ve put a lot of gumption behind the priority. Maybe it’s time to look at some opportunities for someone to bring those pieces together and what that could potentially look like.”

Council’s next meeting is the committee of the whole meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 9 a.m.

This item reprinted with permission from Shootin’ the Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta