Man fights Banff housing crunch with legal apartment in industrial park

In Banff’s cramped housing market, Larry Whan has managed to find a neighbourhood all his own.

Larry Whan has made his storefront his home, and says more Banff renters should follow suit

After a nightmare housing hunt left him homeless, Larry Whan moved into his woodworking shop in the Banff Industrial Compound. (Google )

In Banff's cramped housing market, Larry Whan has managed to find a neighbourhood all his own.

The businessman is the only legal resident of the town's industrial park, where he's constructed a quaint one-bedroom apartment above his woodworking shop.

"I'm the first person in the history of Banff to convert commercial space into residential space," said Whan. "So I'm the only person that's living out here legally."

Nestled between a plumbing shop and an old tow yard, Whan says the area is largely abandoned after business hours.

"It's perfect. Incredibly quiet," said Whan. "I did wake up to some screaming the other morning. And it turns out it just some coyotes fighting, so that's nothing new."

Whan sought approval for the suite after a failed search for a rental apartment left him homeless.

"Desperation is often the motivation for inspiration," said Whan with a laugh during a Monday morning interview on Alberta Morning. 

Owner of Banff Sign Company for more than 30 years, Whan sold his house in Canmore, with the intention of renting in Banff, but the town's zero vacancy rate made finding a place a daunting task.

"With the zero (vacancy) rate in town. It's actually below zero, because anything that's available has a waiting list."

After months of scouring the listings, Whan finally found a place that seemed suitable, but when he showed up with all of his worldly belongings loaded into the back of his pick-up, his excitement quickly dissipated.

Whan says the place was a dive.

"It was just absolutely filthy," said Whan. When he asked the landlord to shampoo the carpets and give the walls a fresh coat of paint, he was quickly brushed off.

"He said, 'If you don't want it, someone else will move in.'" And that's exactly what happened.

Stuck crashing at his friend's place, and running out of patience, Whan started looking into alternative housing options. He was granted approval for construction of the 800 square foot suite in the summer of 2014.

Although Whan enjoys the solitude of the industrial park, he says converting more commercial real estate into housing units would help Banff cope with its ongoing housing crisis.

"If there's a way that it can be set up through council or through Parks (Canada), so they could convert more properties here legally into suites. I think it would really help because it's a desperate situation."


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