Destination Challenges: Housing & Labour

Housing and labour shortages go hand in hand as the biggest challenge we face as a growing destination.

The staff shortage is acute resulting in most businesses having to reduce hours on a regular basis, even during peak season. Businesses have been doing a lot of different things to stay open in the short-term, like business owners working 70+ hours per week, while trying different options that could help in the longer term. These include hiring retirees, who are the majority of Nordegg residents, for part-time or casual roles, sharing staff between businesses when feasible, providing in-house training to staff, increasing wages, providing a flexible schedule, and more. The lack of housing within the townsite is, however, one of the main obstacles in attracting staff willing to relocate to our community.

The housing shortage was by design, based on decisions that made a lot of sense at the time. This is good news since it shows how effective some of these approaches are in shaping the housing mix as we adapt them to the current situation. For example, vacation homes were prioritized over residential properties in the past and the lack of regulations for short-term rentals was used to promote investment properties in recent years. Some of the work is already being done to shift these priorities as we enter the next phases of development in Nordegg.

The next few years will be challenging however as the addition of 26 new commercial lots in the future downtown will exacerbate the situation for both labour and housing. The second-floor apartments are great and will contribute to a lively downtown. They will not solve the housing crisis however since each of the new businesses is likely to need between 4 and 12+ staff for their operations while the additional housing is likely to be sufficient for 2 to 4 staff per business.

Ice climbing in the Cline River Canyon
Nordegg Adventures Staff

So, what can we do? As businesses, we do not control most aspects of housing and it’s unrealistic for small businesses to purchase housing for their staff. The best outcomes are from an approach that includes collaboration between local businesses, the community and Clearwater County. Luckily for us, we have many examples from other mountain and tourism communities within Alberta, Canada and the United States that we can learn from.

On the staffing side, we already see a lot of collaboration between businesses. There is however the potential for a coordinated marketing effort in the spring to showcase what makes Nordegg appealing to staff in order to compete with other mountain towns.

We’ll share more on these in the coming months.

Potential Solutions

These are some of the options that have been discussed in past meetings. The next steps will be to narrow down which options we can use to move forward.

Zoning and Title Restrictions to Improve the Housing Mix

Some of this is already in the works with plans to change the NLR zoning to allow for use as a permanent residence. Zoning amendments may also be needed to allow multi-family options in the manufactured home park, Elizabeth Avenue and Lily Avenue, or to allow for seasonal staff housing options in the industrial park, at the Shunda Creek Hostel and at the Goldeye Centre. The Land Use Bylaw will likely need to be amended once the Municipal Development Plan is approved, making this a good time to review changes that could improve the situation.

We are seeing other communities restrict some properties for residential use and some taking an equity position into the property to ensure long-term affordability. This is an expensive option after the fact but much more feasible at this point while the County owns the land. The Price Restricted Model used by the Banff Housing Corporation is one example of this. The Vail InDEED program is another example where the municipality is purchasing deed restrictions on existing properties.

Short-term rentals are a broader issue than just housing but need to be part of this discussion given their impact on the availability of long-term rental housing. The Nordegg Community Association is working on options to address some of the negative impacts on the community but the challenge will be to find an approach that balances the desires of the investors who purchased properties marketed as potential short-term rentals, the shortage of hotel rooms we have and the needs of the community. There are options to address this through the land use bylaw, requiring short-term rentals to obtain a development permit as a home-based occupation and restricting the number of properties used as short-term rentals within each area. Again, we can look at other communities to see what is being done in Canmore and Breckenridge for example.

Adjust the Development Phases

Multi-family housing is still a few years away in the Nordegg Development Plan, in part to reduce costs as the necessary infrastructure is being built. This may need to be revised in order for the commercial core to be appealing to new businesses.

Alternative Housing Models

The lots for sale in Nordegg have been reasonably priced but the additional costs related to the construction have mostly negated this advantage. We will need to consider alternative housing models to ensure that we have a mix of housing at an affordable price point. This will also need to include options for seasonal housing since most summer staff are not looking for one-year leases but rather to rent a room in an apartment for 3 to 6 months.

Some businesses have had success pooling their resources to build a coop staff housing model. This will be more challenging in Nordegg where businesses are small and lack the capital to make a significant upfront investment in housing. Nonprofit and municipal corporation models are present in almost all mountain tourism communities, providing us with many examples that we can use as starting points.

Short Term Solutions

None of these options are likely to address the problem in the next 3 to 5 years. We need to look at temporary options including work camp type housing and allowing camping within the townsite. The Safe Park Pilot Program in Canmore is an example that could be replicated in Nordegg. It’s not a long-term solution but it could help in the short term.

Projects & Updates

A few of updates and resources on the challenges we face as a growing destination.

October 2022 Meeting Highlights

An overview of our plans for 2022/23 and a discussion on the North Saskatchewan River Heritage Designation.

Some Numbers on Staff Housing

Rules for staff housing are different than other types of tenancies, including how much can be deducted from wages for rent.

Airbnb Impacts on Nordegg

Concerns regarding the growing number of Airbnbs that are set to open within North Nordegg’s Residential Subdivision.

January 2022 Meeting Highlights

Discussing the Nordegg Development Plan with Jose Reyes, Clearwater County's Director of Planning, to find out more about how it impacts our housing challenges.

December 2021 Meeting Highlights

Following up on the housing discussion, looking at our target markets with Travel Alberta and crafting winter itineraries.

October 2021 Meeting Highlights

A discussion with Jerry Pratt, Clearwater County's EDO, on the housing challenges faced by businesses in Nordegg.