City takes first steps to address housing problem

While the results of Lacombe’s Housing Needs Assessment may not have been the most uplifting, it is an issue the City is already addressing.

  • Dec. 5, 2013 8:00 a.m.

While the results of Lacombe’s Housing Needs Assessment may not have been the most uplifting, it is an issue the City is already addressing.

At its regular meeting last month, City council heard a report from Another Way Consulting regarding Lacombe’s housing analysis. According to the report, Lacombe is in dire need for more housing, affordable housing and dense residential zones in particular.

Norma MacQuarrie, chief administrative officer for the City, said that doing the analysis was an essential first step in addressing Lacombe’s housing problem.

“It’s critically important that we be informed.” She added that the City needed to know, as best as possible, what Lacombe’s housing stock was comprised of.

Deputy Mayor Wayne Armishaw said he found the information in the presentation “extremely valuable” and added that he will be reviewing the report closely as the City and council move forward with addressing this problem.

“I can certainly see that there is a need there,” said Armishaw. “That may come out when the numbers are crunched a bit further.”

Through the study, the City now knows that Lacombe has a less than 0% vacancy rate at 0.04 said MacQuarrie. She added that the study also pointed out that much of Lacombe’s existing stock is not affordable, with many residents spending more than 30% of their income (which is considered the cut-off for accommodation affordability) on housing and some even spending in excess of 50%.

Armishaw mentioned one concern of his own was how many Lacombians are over-housed, meaning living in a dwelling size that does not match the number of occupants. He said that these finding may show developers that there is a need for higher density residential areas in Lacombe and might encourage them to build such developments.

MacQuarrie mentioned that Lacombe’s housing needs directly affect its ability to encourage economic growth, in particular the commercial growth that Lacombe also desperately needs.

“It’s not possible to have those commercial businesses in Lacombe,” said MacQuarrie. “Because the employees in those businesses have nowhere to live. So, you have to make sure all the pieces fit together and housing is a critical component of economic development.”

Part of the reason Lacombe has not been able to provide enough housing is because it has not been able to achieve the desired density in some of its residential zones. MacQuarrie said that Lacombe has only achieved 65% of the possible density in its residential areas. She said that the developers tend to build lower-density developments because it is easier for them to recover costs and make a profit and the City has not required them to build to a higher density.

There are a number of options the City can pursue to address this problem. For example, the City could look at density bonusing, where if developers achieve a set density they are rewarded through relaxation of fees and such.

The next steps for the City regarding the issue are to continue to consult with stakeholders in the community, said MacQuarrie. This will be done over the next three months. Once that has been done, City administration will use that information to make recommendations to council in March.