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Six Alberta communities sign housing deals with federal government

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The federal government says it has completed housing agreements with six small and rural communities in Alberta.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser made the announcement in Banff about the agreements with the mountain town, as well as Sylvan Lake, Bow Island, Westlock, Smoky Lake and the village of Duchess.

Fraser said in a news release the deals would help fast-track more than 400 homes in the next three years and spur the construction of 3,100 homes in the next decade.

"By working with cities, towns, municipalities, mayors, and all levels of government, we are helping to get more homes built for Canadians at prices they can afford," Fraser said in a release.

Ottawa has been signing agreements directly with municipalities through its housing accelerator fund, which offers money in exchange for changes to bylaws and regulations that support more homebuilding.

Municipalities were invited to apply for the federal fund with a plan on how they would ramp up construction in their communities.

Banff, a busy tourist town, is to receive more than $4.6 million to support its plan to deal with the ongoing affordable housing crisis.

Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno said the funding was crucial to help address Banff's housing crisis.

The town currently has a 0.3 per rental vacancy with a shortfall of 700 to 1000 homes, according to town staff.

"The funding is a catalyst for town-led projects, while also perfectly timed with bold new changes to municipal land use rule and incentive initiatives that will encourage more private developers and property owners to create new homes in our community," DiManno said, in a release.

University of Calgary architecture professor Sasha Tsenkova told CTV News the initiative was a step in the right direction.

"It's a positive move to begin to navigate this long journey in terms of adjusting our cities -- not just the Town of Banff, but (in) other cities across Canada and communities to respond to the cost of living and the housing crisis that we're experiencing," Tsenkova said.

Tsenkova also said it might be the end of the era of building single-family homes -- a trend she's witnessed in a number of U.S. states and in countries such as New Zealand.

"Places around the globe really are dealing with that challenge of concentration of people into urban settings and the need to incorporate higher-density and diversity of housing," she said. "So the typology of a single-family home on a large lot, perhaps is not going to survive the test of time in the 21st century."

A resident’s experience

Catina Antunes has been living in Banff for a few years and knows the struggles of finding a place to call home.

“Trying to find a house, it’s nearly impossible,” said Antunes.

She and her partner originally were living in a small house, paying $1,800 per month.

“We never even visited the house. We just got a video from the guy that was renting it,” said Antunes. “We were so worried that we weren't going to find anything else. We just ended up taking it.”

Last May, Antunes learned she was pregnant, making them want a bigger space.

“No way we could stay in that house,” she said.

She had spent two years on a waitlist for an apartment unit. When the person found out she was pregnant she wanted to help.

A couple moved out, opening the door for her soon-to-be family of three to move in.

“She called me immediately and she placed me in here, but if she hadn't done that, and if it wasn't for her, I have no idea where we would live now," she said.

The two-bedroom apartment is $1,850, but the price will go up to $1,950 in March.

“We only got it because I was pregnant and the lady felt really bad,” she said.

Antunes says the unit construction the housing agreements will help spur in the town can’t come soon enough.

“No one has two years to wait to have a house,” she said.

The Banff Housing Corporation and the town are working on a project that would place 250 units near the first entrance to Banff when driving in from Calgary. That would be one of the final pieces of land for possible development within the town.

With files from The Canadian Press

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