By Greg Price
Taber-area residents still have a chance to give feedback in helping shape the future of housing in the area.
There was a community consultation for affordable housing on April 24 hosted by the Town of Taber, M.D. of Taber and Taber and District Housing Foundation at Parkside Manor.
Picking the brains of the well-attended open house, session outcomes that hoped to be arrived at were awareness of what is meant by affordable housing and how it is understood in the community of Taber and the M.D. of Taber; a better understanding of the needs related to affordable housing within the community; and awareness and support for the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) Affordable Housing Proposal for rural Alberta, and how it could benefit the community.
“They (ARDN) have done a significant amount of work looking at census information, Stats Can information for the Town of Taber and the M.D. of Taber,” said Tim Janzen, chief administrative officer for Taber and District Housing Foundation. “They showed how the demographics have been getting older showing census data from 1995, 2000, 2005, 2011 and 2016. You can definitely see a bulge that is going through the age categories and getting older.”
Taber and Vauxhall has seen very little growth, or even slight regression compared to Barnwell which has seen growth according to Janzen who was at the open house, doing a presentation of what the Taber and District Housing Foundation does for its respective communities in the Taber, Vauxhall, Hays, Enchant and M.D. of Taber areas.
During the peak of the economic boom, vacancy in Taber was at one per cent, making it almost impossible to find a place. Currently, the town is at around nine per cent.
“In a number of discussions we had with service groups, realtors and housing people, we still hear anecdotal evidence of people struggling to find suitable and affordable housing. Affordable being, can people pay for it at a percentage of their income and suitable being say the right number of bedrooms or in reasonable shape,” said Janzen. “Sometimes the units may not be the nicest place to stay in. So people choose not to spend their money there, so those units are still considered vacant. Suitable can be a strong term.”
There was a Q&A at the open house where people broke into focus groups for discussions concerning the need for housing in the community.
“What does affordable housing mean to you? There were a wide range of answers — it’s not easy. We have industry definitions, but for the layperson in the public, it could mean something different in a rental as opposed to ownership. I think there was a recognized need that there are people who cannot afford to live, either renting or owning, what is offered in Taber.”
Another issue that popped up in the open house was access to specialist medical services with transportation.
“People may find it difficult to live in certain communities because they need to access specialist medial care in Lethbridge or say Calgary. I will say, people recognized that they receive really good primary care in Taber. Some of the outlying communities definitely have some challenges,” said Janzen. “If you don’t drive, how do you access outlying services and live in an outlying area. There will be some pressure to move to the larger community.”
People spoke to what some of the current housing projects in Taber are like, what the challenges and benefits, and how can the community become involved.
“It was posed with how can Taber and District Housing Foundation help the community,” said Janzen. “Some of the challenges will be around zoning development where people think it’s a really good idea until it neighbours their property. We are interested in working with (ARDN) to assist us, but at this point, it’s not about building a project, it’s about getting information to see if one is needed and if one is needed, what exactly is needed and develop a business case in what can be financially sustainable.”
For the people who were uncomfortable or intimidated in speaking up in a small discussion group, there were key message cards that were handed out asking for key messages to be left with the organizers of the housing open house.
That feedback is also being offered still to people who were not able to attend the open house on April 24. People can access an online survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TaberProject-CC. The survey is open until May 10.
“We definitely want to hear people’s opinions. We want to have public input. In the end, if we try and make a proposal and don’t have public support — we are not going to get very far,” said Janzen.
ARDN will be providing a report in the next couple of weeks along with a business case in what the Town of Taber and M.D. of Taber can possibly do.