North Okanagan Vital Signs report keys in on housing and affordability

Affordability top challenge

Housing and affordability continue to be key issues for North Okanagan residents.

The North Okanagan 2023 Vital Signs report points to increased homelessness, lack of affordable housing, a growing income gap, and almost non-existent vacancy rate.

"Our last report was published in late 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic had begun but before the effects of a global pandemic could be understood," says Community Foundation North Okanagan executive director Leanne Hammond.

"Three years later, we are beginning to grasp the number of ways that our world has changed. The issues that seemed pressing in 2020, including affordable housing, income inequality, a changing climate and environment, and community safety, now feel intractable. The enormity of the intervention needed is overwhelming."

But Hammond says "community life has come roaring back" and "our strength lies in our togetherness."

Survey respondents identified affordable housing as their most challenging issue, with 64.8% placing it as the No. 1 challenge.

Cost of living was chosen by 47%, and homelessness by 44.2%.

The latest homeless count found 279 people unhoused in Vernon – a number that has increased steadily since 2017.

"The number of people experiencing homelessness in Vernon has increased alongside median home sale prices and assessed values. North Okanagan residents are concerned about the lack of middle-income housing options," the report states.

"At first glance, poverty rates appear to have decreased in the North Okanagan. However, COVID-19 emergency and recovery benefits, including CERB, were available at the time this data was gathered. Survey respondents frequently commented on the high cost of food."

The median price of a single-family home in the North Okanagan as of April was $749,000 – an increase of 56.3% since 2019.

Meanwhile, 75% homes owned versus 25% rented.

Spending 30% or more of income on shelter is considered insecure housing. In the North Okanagan, 14.5% of owner-occupied households spend 30% or more, while 40.2% of renter households do so.

Median shelter costs are $1,120 a month for renters and $1,060 for owners – a 22% increase since 2016 for renters and 17% increase for owners.

Of the 42,722 private residences in the North Okanagan, 3,901, or 9.1%, are not occupied by year-round residents.

Meanwhile, Vernon has a 0.9% rental vacancy rate despite the construction of 143 new non-profit housing units since 2020. A balanced rental vacancy rate is widely accepted as 3%.

Multigenerational housing is also becoming more popular, with 915 households reporting three generations in the home.

Despite the many difficulties, 61.2% report a strong sense of belonging to their community. That's slightly higher than the provincial rate of 60.0%. However, regional and provincial rates have been decreasing since 2015.

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