Calgary

Okotoks created affordable housing task force to tackle high costs, rental shortages

The Town of Okotoks launched an affordable housing task force in the spring to address the problem in the southern Alberta community.

20% of renters spending more than half their income on rent

The Town of Okotoks is reviewing recommendations to tackle its affordable housing problem. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The Town of Okotoks launched an affordable housing task force in the spring to address the problem in the southern Alberta community.

A recent study by online real estate brokerage Zoocasa listed Okotoks as the fourth least affordable place to live in the province.

"Housing is quite a significant challenge. Most of the housing in Okotoks is very expensive, too expensive for people to be able to afford it," said Brigitte Baradoy, one of the members of the task force.

"I think there's a lot of things that have put Okotoks in this position. One of those is the growth rate … it's a brand new community and they're all brand new homes."

Another issue Baradoy flagged is the lack of rentals.

"Okotoks hasn't had any purpose-built rental properties since the 1980s … to add to that, we don't have any policies for secondary housing."

The task force, which was founded in April, is composed of members of the public with expertise in areas like housing, finance and social services.

The group has brought recommendations forward to council include easing rules to allow secondary suites, securing land for new purpose-built rental units and finding better ways to track the severity of the housing problem. The task force hopes to craft long-term initiatives to guide the town for coming generations.

Shawn Rose is the chair of the Okotoks Affordable Housing Task Force. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Task force chair Shawn Rose said too many residents are spending more than they can afford.

"Almost half of renters in this town are paying over the CMHC definition of affordable, and almost 20 per cent of those are actually spending over half their income on rent, so it is a significant issue," Rose said.

'We need higher density'

He said after studying dozens of other municipalities in North America facing similar issues, one of the first things they identified as a point to improve was that tons of single-family homes were being underutilized.

"We need higher density," he said, adding that goal could be achieved by adding secondary suites or creating incentives for developers to build rental properties.

Town council has voted to support and study the recommendations and has directed staff to bring back a report and action plan by spring.

With files from Dave Gilson

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