Transitioning to smaller units may help with vacancy rate, but only if seniors want to move
Fifty years ago, Jasper’s Bob Dowling wanted to build a co-operative housing unit.
He didn’t call it that at the time, but the idea was to build an owner-occupied apartment style block. He and a group of his fellow residents, most of whom had young families, wanted to alleviate the housing crunch in Jasper. Ultimately, the proposal fell through; the young families couldn’t come up with the money. But the problem remains.
“Accommodation has been an issue forever,” said Dowling, who’s 92 this year.
This past month, the Municipality of Jasper’s Housing Corporation has also been attempting to make inroads on the housing crunch. Focusing on staff accommodation and seniors housing, officials are gathering interested parties to define and design solutions to the shortfall.
“The lack of housing for staff has an impact on business,” said Mark Fercho, CAO of the municipality. “It’s time to get something done.”
Dowling agrees with that sentiment; he would have agreed five decades ago, too. The retired pharmacist remembers having to put staff up in a garage.
“There was nowhere else to live,” he laughed. “And when things were built, they were completely occupied, immediately.”
If Dowling has experience thinking creatively to house staff, he’s also somewhat of an expert on the limited accommodation choices Jasper seniors have when they retire. Bob and his wife Olga still live in their four-bedroom Geikie Street bungalow, but if they had an option to downsize to something smaller, they would, he said.
“We’d be in there tomorrow,” he said.
Moreover, the Dowlings home is perfect for a business owner wanting to rent to their staff.
“It would be ideal accommodations for somebody who wanted it for staff, it’s too big for a B&B,” he said.
Jasper’s housing market is unique: a finite number of parcels and seemingly infinite demand means space is at a premium. A peek at local real estate prices confirms as much.
Having said that, Dowling knows that there are hundreds of potential rooms out there—they’re in the family-sized bungalows, like his, which are occupied by seniors who don’t have an option to downsize‚ or, in some cases, don’t want to.
One local senior told The Jasper Local that she’ll stay in her home until she’s no longer able. In her 80s, she entertains family and friends in her two storey home, but as a widow, lives alone.
“I wouldn’t leave this place for all the tea in China,” she said.
Dowling, who served as the Minister of Business Development and Tourism during his 10-year career in Alberta politics from 1969-79, knows that it’s going to take collaboration from all stakeholders to make progress on staff and seniors housing in Jasper. But he also knows that if there’s a will, there’s a way.
“The Housing Committee have done a fabulous job of bringing this to the fore,” he said. “What stands out to me are the number of people waiting in line [for seniors housing], and the number of people coming up.”