Cochrane town council was told a key way to make a wider range of affordable housing available in Cochrane is by collaboration, and this is the ideal time to do it.

The results of the 2020 Cochrane Community Housing Needs Assessment, designed to build a more complete understanding of the current and future housing needs, were presented to council on Nov. 23.

Through completion of a community survey, three focus groups, and individual interviews, it determined there is a particular need for smaller housing options in the community.

Eighty percent of Cochrane's houses have three or more bedrooms and they aren't best suited for those with lesser demands or income to support. It has forced many individuals with these lesser demands to seek out roommates to make those larger homes affordable housing options. While that may work well for some individuals, it's not preferred or even appropriate for others.

Renters and low-income earners, in particular, are heavily impacted.

According to the assessment's data, those earning less than $40,000 per year typically spend more than 50 per cent of their income on shelter, while 30 per cent is the national benchmark. Additionally, many of these rental properties were built between 1960 and 1980 and could be redeveloped, leaving a strong likelihood of increased rental costs.

A collaborative approach to addressing the issue would ideally involve not only non-profit agencies and policymakers, but landlords/landowners, developers, builders, and businesses. The needs assessment says the current landscape is right for such a thrust.

Developers are among those keen to get involved and help find solutions, urban planner Leighton Ginther, of Urban Matters, told council in his summary. Additionally, the province is completing a review right now on how to best allocate funds to address affordable housing and has indicated the private sector will play a role. 

"I would love to get all of the stakeholders in the room and look at what the assets are we have in our community, map them out, and figure out how we can work together to fill the gaps in the housing continuum," Corrine Burns, housing coordinator for the Cochrane Society of Housing Options (CSHO), told council.

The assessment confirmed transitional and short-term housing options are also in demand in town, said Ginther.

"We know that a shelter is being considered in the community and a recognized need, and that's one area where we heard from service providers saying quite often we have to direct people to Calgary to meet need, and so they have to leave their community in order to access the services they need." 

The report also said efforts need to be made to build a community that is inclusive for all residents, regardless of income, background, or gender.

"Housing is such a foundational element to creating a stable and successful community," said Ginther.

The needs assessment was conducted by CSHO in partnership with the town and completed by Urban Matters LLC.