As a citizen who lived in Banff on and off for two decades, Nikole Poirier didn’t hesitate to leave the mountain town to help her family members retire. But when she was ready to return, she faced a major problem: there was nowhere to live.
She started looking for a place to rent two months before returning to work in Banff, but she was unlucky.
Eventually, her employer provided her with a hotel room so she could start working and continue her research from there.
She lived in that hotel room for a month.
“It was quite shocking to me, that [with] the army of people helping me look for a place and myself, it took three months to find,” Poirier said.
Cindy Heisler has been helping people find homes in the Bow Valley for nine years through her prominent Bow Valley Home Finder Facebook group, which has more than 25,000 members.
She said the housing situation in Banff this year has been horrible.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s twice as bad as I’ve ever seen. There’s just no place to rent,” Heisler said.
Many long-time residents and new residents of Banff are struggling to find housing this year. Like Poirier, some live in hotels and hostels, while others have crammed into a room with bunk beds and several roommates.
This leads to a staff shortage in the summer that plagues businesses across the city. Unless employers can provide new employees with staff housing, they cannot guarantee that they will be able to move to Banff and find housing.
“It just breaks down human resources departments, rather fracturing them, all over the city,” Poirier said.
Worst staffing shortage in years
Michel Dufresne, director of the Job Resource Center in Banff and Canmore, said Banff is facing the worst staff shortage in years.
“I’ve never seen that,” Dufresne said.
In discussions with employers over the past three months, Dufresne said companies are about 20-25% short of staff this summer. This compares to the usual 10% of previous years.
He said those employers have had to adjust the way they do business so they can operate with just three-quarters of the staff they normally have.
Along with these changes, and adding to the problem, Dufresne said some employers have run out of staff housing to offer people interested in working in Banff.
“We hear that some large employers are using hostels for staff accommodation, and even some of their own hotel rooms.”
Ebony Rempel, CEO of YWCA Banff, said the city’s housing shortage is negatively affecting her organization.
“It is particularly difficult for us (…) in terms of finding accommodation for the staff we need here to work in the tourism industry,” she said.
YWCA staff are offered accommodation at their hotel, and Rempel said workers from other organizations often stay there as well.
Forty percent of job vacancies in Banff have staff housing available, according to Dufresne. But he said that wasn’t always felt for employees.
“We also heard that someone would advertise with staff accommodation, people would apply for the job and when interviewed they were told there was no more accommodation for the staff. staff available,” Dufresne said.
Something similar happened to Samantha Bruty when she moved to Banff earlier this month.
Staff quarters canceled, crowded in rooms
Bruty was hired in March with guaranteed staff accommodation to begin work in June. But five days before she arrived in Canada from England, she was told her employer was running out of space for her to live.
She was then alone to find accommodation. Bruty eventually found a room to rent through Facebook, which cost him $800 for a security deposit and one month’s rent.
“The money I came to Canada with, half of it left within two days of landing because I needed a roof over my head,” Bruty said.
After that month, Bruty was able to move into staff accommodation. She now sleeps on a bunk bed, living in a room with two of her colleagues – despite being promised only one roommate.
“You have almost no personal space,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to put my suitcase in a closet, but that’s about all I have.”
Heisler said a situation like this is not uncommon. She said she heard of even worse living conditions, with up to a dozen people living in one house because they have nowhere to go.
“It’s almost like we don’t just have an affordable housing problem or a housing problem, period, but we have a stability problem,” Heisler said.
Poirier said he has witnessed the growth of this problem over the decades.
“I’ve never, ever seen it that way. I hear people struggling because they’re stuck in terrible rental situations that they just can’t get out of because otherwise they have to get out of town.”
Where have all the accommodations gone?
If summer is usually Banff’s busiest season for visitors and staff, but the town has never faced a housing shortage like this before, where have all the housing for these workers gone ?
No one is certain.
Sharon Oakley is the Town of Banff’s Housing Sustainability Manager.
“It’s a really, really interesting dilemma that we find ourselves in right now. And I’ll be honest, we’re a little confused as to what’s going on,” Oakley said.
Oakley suspects the pandemic has changed people’s living circumstances in Banff. As much of the world shut down in 2020, Oakley said many temporary foreign workers have returned home, creating an influx of vacant units in the city.
As public messaging spread around the world to avoid transmission of COVID-19 by social distancing and avoiding shared accommodation, she said many people living in dense situations took the opportunity to get their own accommodation. .
“I think a lot of people are still wondering if they want to have more roommates or not,” Oakley said. “That’s why when we had the flood of returns to work, there was not the same availability in terms of housing.”
YWCA’s Rempel agrees the pandemic has changed people’s lives, many of whom are now choosing to have a more balanced lifestyle.
She suspects that people are no longer working multiple jobs like they used to.
“People who were maybe working two jobs and obviously would only need to find one place to live for themselves, now they’re working less. And so we have to hire more people to do the same amount of work that we needed before the pandemic,” she said.
Heisler and Dufresne said that could be partly due to people who moved to Banff during the pandemic to work remotely and decided to stay – although Parks Canada’s qualifying residence regulations technically do not allow it.
“This shouldn’t happen. You should work in Banff [to live in Banff]but it’s not something they enforce, unfortunately,” Dufresne said.
Heisler also said the similar housing shortage in Canmore could inadvertently hurt Banff, as Banff workers who live in Canmore and commute to work lose their homes to vacation rentals.
“I think the slow removal of pieces from the market where people lived in Canmore really hurt the balance,” Heisler said.
Oakley said the town of Banff should have more concrete data on the cause of the current housing shortage come fall. In the meantime, they are actively working to create more units to house residents.
“Our community recognizes the need for more housing to be able to house people. It’s certainly been a priority for our council, and has been for a long time, to provide affordable housing for people who come to choose to support our community.”