The Town of Stettler wants to address a Catch-22 facing many Alberta and Canadian communities: efforts to promote business growth are hampered by a lack of affordable housing. Town council discussed the issue at their Oct. 3 regular meeting.
Councillors read a report written for them by Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Leann Graham, essentially forwarding the economic development committee’s recommendation that the town addresses a serious lack of rental housing in the community.
“The economic development committee respectfully recommends that Town of Stettler council direct administration to administer a request for proposal (RFP) for the 2024 budget to update 2020 housing assessment and complete a community housing strategy with the following objectives: Identify public and private land available for housing, funding tools to leverage partnerships with government and private developers and get more housing built and streamline planning policy and process to allow for diverse housing including affordable housing, rental properties, housing for older adults and seniors that facilitates aging in place, first-time homebuyers, and temporary or emergency housing,” stated the CAO’s report to council.
Graham noted in her report that a 2020 housing study completed for the Town of Stettler showed a need for a wide variety of different housing options in Stettler, including for older adults, first-time homebuyers, young people, those seeking affordable housing plus smaller properties and rental properties, to name a few.
The study included an assessment of Stettler’s role in central Alberta, which is as a hub for the rural regions of east central Alberta.
“The Town of Stettler, the largest centre between Red Deer and the Saskatchewan border, is the chief service centre for a diversified regional economy featuring agriculture, oil and gas and tourism,” stated Graham’s report, adding that as a trading and community hub, Stettler would be expected to accommodate a variety of housing needs.
However, the study revealed Stettler’s housing stock was almost 72 per cent single-family detached homes; readers may be aware such homes are not always available on the rental market and would likely require a mortgage which for young or new residents isn’t always an option.
Homes of this type probably wouldn’t meet the needs of groups looking for affordable housing or rental units.
The study quoted a Stats Can report that noted 70 per cent of Stettler’s residential homes had three or more bedrooms, but only a third of those homes actually had that many people living in them which suggests people were living in homes that may be too big for them or that they cannot afford or both possibly because no other options were available to them.
Assistant CAO Steven Gerlitz summarized the issue facing the Town of Stettler. “Huge housing shortage in town,” said Gerlitz. He added that the economic development committee’s recommendation would involve the 2020 housing report be updated to focus on rental properties.
Gerlitz stated staff don’t know yet how much such an update would cost but it’s estimated to be between $20,000 and $60,000 and if the recommendation was approved staff would likely have the RFP ready for council to examine in December.
Mayor Sean Nolls stated he was concerned about the issue because looking deeply at the 2020 report, much of which was based on 2018 data, no significant rental properties were built in Stettler in a decade.
“This is a need,” said the mayor, adding that low-income housing will be included in this update.
Coun. Wayne Smith stated he needed to be convinced that an update costing up to $60,000 was necessary, especially if council was already aware rental properties need to be boosted. Coun. Scott Pfeiffer agreed.
During discussion Mayor Nolls and several other councillors pointed out the 2020 study wasn’t focussed on rental properties and if the Town of Stettler is going to work with developers on such properties the updated data may be needed for things like bank financing.
Coun. Smith conceded that he had been convinced.
Councillors unanimously passed a resolution that staff prepare the RFP as requested by the economic development committee.
Local Journalism Initiative reporter