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Jasper bursting at the seams as businesses struggle to house employees

WATCH ABOVE: About two-and-a-half million tourists visit Jasper National Park every year and those people are served by a town of just 5,000 people. As Sarah Kraus explains, the area's popularity has made it difficult to find enough housing for all the staff needed to keep up with the tourists.

The town of Jasper, home to 5,000 people, annually plays host to nearly 2.5 million tourists. But as the park grows, the town cannot grow with it – causing headaches for local businesses.

“Housing is extremely tight in this community,” Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said.

“Our community boundary is set by federal legislation, as part of the National Parks Act, so we can’t grow.”

READ MORE: Mountain pine beetle epidemic sparks wildfire concerns in Jasper

That poses a problem for employers.

“As this destination grows and grows and as does its reputation, so does the demand for housing for employees. Particularly seasonally in the summer,” Chamber of Commerce president Richard Cooper said.

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Both Ireland and Cooper have been working together to try and address the issue.

“Businesses with accommodations tend to do very well because they can offer the accommodations with the job itself. Unfortunately, there are some smaller businesses that don’t have the privilege of offering staff accommodation. So they can often be very challenged.”

One of those businesses is a crowd favourite: the Bear’s Paw Bakery. The cozy cafe often has a long line snaking through it each morning, as staff work away behind the counter.

“I have worked very hard over the last decade to try to build a relationship with some of the apartments in town so I can get apartments on their behalf,” owner Kim Stark said. “But even so, that doesn’t give me enough housing for all the staff I require.”

She acknowledges the housing shortage in Jasper isn’t a new phenomenon, but said the issue has been getting worse over time. In her experience, the problem is two-fold: rentals are hard to come by and buying can often break the bank.

“I just had someone this morning give me her resignation after nine years because her and her partner want to buy a home,” she said.

“To be able to afford a home in Jasper, it’s expensive. It’s prohibitive.”

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The solution appears to be straightforward. With no chance of expanding the town’s footprint, single family homes are being replaced by multiplexes.

“Densification is certainly one of the areas that we’re looking at, as well as any areas, parcels of land that may be underutilized within the town site,” Cooper explained.

But those changes won’t happen overnight. Ireland said councillors have been diligently trying to push building along for the last few years.

“Several hundred units have been added to the base – but still we have this persistent problem. We’re addressing it as we can.”

It’s just not fast enough for Stark’s busy bakery.

“We’re usually running about five to seven people short, because I have nowhere for them to live.”

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