A report by the Regional District of Central Kootenay has found residents in the Slocan Valley, Arrow Lakes and North Kootenay Lake regions are having difficulty finding affordable housing. File picture

A report by the Regional District of Central Kootenay has found residents in the Slocan Valley, Arrow Lakes and North Kootenay Lake regions are having difficulty finding affordable housing. File picture

Housing situation in RDCK very difficult, says report

One in five RDCK households are living in homes costing nearly a third of their income

  • Sep. 17, 2020 12:00 a.m.

By John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

A survey of the housing situation in the Regional District of Central Kootenay has found that an aging population, under- or unemployment, and few rental options are making housing difficult for many people living in the Slocan Valley, Arrow Lakes, and North Kootenay Lake areas.

The draft of the RDCK’s Regional Housing Needs Report has been delivered to the local government’s board of directors. It assesses the current state of home ownership, rental and non-market supported housing across the RDCK.

The report found that one in five RDCK households are living in homes costing them nearly a third of their income. The situation is particularly acute in the region’s smaller centres, it says.

“Single people and low-income households cannot reasonably afford market prices” in Kaslo, Slocan Valley, Nakusp, and other areas, the report’s authors found. “Single households, who are often younger and hold lower-wage jobs or are older and live off investments or savings, do not earn enough to comfortably rent or purchase a traditional dwelling … emphasizing the importance of non-market support.”

But it’s a pan-district problem.

“In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that 4,630 RDCK households lived in homes that put them outside their financial means … equating to 20 per cent of surveyed households,” the report says. “Renters, who as a whole earn less than owners, are much likelier to allocate unreasonable amounts to shelter (42 per cent).”

While couples (with or without children) and moderate-income households earn enough to comfortably purchase a single-detached dwelling, many residents of the area don’t.

“For instance, the median lone parent cannot reasonably afford any dwelling type…,” the report says. “Singles or very low-income households cannot reasonably afford any median dwelling price in RDCK, but can, or are close to, affording manufactured/ movable homes.”

The report’s authors used Census Canada information, public surveys, and interviews with stakeholders in the system to draw their conclusions.

The goal of the study is to identify housing gaps, opportunities and partnerships to support local and regional housing projects, and make recommendations as to strategies and best management to support housing.

The sweeping, 750-page report looks at housing types and availability, as well as how the changing demographics and economics affect housing, including how ‘energy poverty’ affects homeowners and renters.

Among the findings:

• The RDCK is growing modestly – six per cent between 2006 and 2016. It projects population growth increasing a further five per cent by 2025. The housing supply is also growing.

• Population growth and declining household sizes mean more people are contributing to the demand for RDCK housing, which is anticipated to fall just short of estimated building construction trends.

• Rapid senior growth is the new normal, and the youth population is shrinking.

• Growth in renting families outpaced owners.

Community consultations also described the impact of the skewed housing situation:

• Regional employers are finding it very difficult to attract and retain staff because of limited housing availability and unaffordability.

• Younger families and single parents are struggling to meet their needs.

• Careers that traditionally provided stable, middle-class incomes are not keeping up with housing prices.

• Non-profits and social service organizations are routinely bearing the cost of serving the most vulnerable in the region.

• The housing supply is growing at about 235 units a year, but the largest share of dwellings were built in the 1960s-70s. Adjusted for inflation, single family homes cost about the same as they did a decade ago.

• Rents are increasing, at 12 per cent from 2013 to 2019 after inflation. That outpaced the estimated growth in incomes during that time.

• Commercial short-term rental properties are becoming more popular. About 350 such units existed as of April 2020, accounting for about one per cent of the total estimated housing demand.

Support needed

The study found many residents need additional supports in order to afford increased housing costs.

One-third (33 per cent) of renters who completed a housing needs assessment survey indicated that they had accessed housing supports in the last two years. These supports included the food bank, the Salvation Army, BC Housing RENT and SAFER programs, shelter beds, and various others.

“The experience of accessing these supports can sometimes be stressful and humiliating and waits for subsidies or supports can be long and paperwork can sometimes be confusing,” the study found. “There is also a lot of concern that people who have traditionally been able to afford housing are increasingly being pushed out.”

The report says that manifests in hidden homelessness, increased usage rates at places like food banks, or people renting in places that are further from vital services so they can get the number of bedrooms they need.

The report also found dissatisfaction among renters, with low vacancy rates forcing people to stay in rental housing situations that are less than ideal and may lack necessary supports.

“Forty-three per cent of renter respondents to the housing needs survey indicated that they were currently looking for rental housing,” the study says. Almost half (46 per cent) were considering leaving their community because of their rental situation.”

It also found a lack of supported, or non-market housing facilities and programs. Only Nelson provides emergency or homeless shelters affiliated with BC Housing. Electoral area residents mostly benefit from rental assistance.

Renters and owners are both challenged by the current housing market.

“There are many people in the RDCK who, five years ago, may have been able to afford market housing who are now unable to because of the accelerated cost,” says the report. “Key informants routinely pointed out that accessing housing is more difficult for everyone, not just marginalized populations. More and more, only those making more than the median income are insulated from housing instability.”

But the study also found strong community support for addressing the housing situation.

“There is a deep and genuine concern for the well-being of others and the future of housing availability in the Regional District of Central Kootenay,” it says. “Many older residents were concerned that their children and young families would not have the same opportunities in the housing market as they did.

“Almost everyone was concerned that there was an increasing number of people in their community struggling to find a place to live. Community members are also concerned that housing availability will only get worse as more people move to the Regional District to retire.”

— Valley Voice

Nelson Star