Can't afford to live here

Whether you're a single parent of one or parents of four the struggle to keep a roof over your head in Kelowna is a constant uphill battle.

Two different parents contacted Castanet this week sharing their absolute exasperation at the state of the rental market in the Central Okanagan and their inability to find a home for their families.

Shane, who asked to keep his last name private, has up to four kids living with him and his fiancee in a one-bedroom basement suite with their dog. It is not a suitable place for a family of that size, but they cannot find anything else.

“The rental market here is just awful,” says Shane. “We've been looking since last November really. It is just ridiculous there is nothing there.”

He says they are responsible and respectful, don't drink, smoke or do drugs – and yet they are struggling.

“With every new rental we see, the price keeps going up. There is just no break for anyone,” says Shane.

“Anyone making less than $30 an hour, I don't know how they are living here. I don't know how anyone can afford a house here. It is just unbelievable.”

While Shane understands that property owners are charging rent prices reflective of the current market, he doesn't think prices should be so unattainable for families.

“Where is the morality? Who wants to rent their house for $4,000 a month to some drug dealer that is probably not going to live there for the whole year-lease term without getting arrested or destroying the house partying. There is nothing for families.”

He says the family is willing to pay $1,700 a month with utilities, but there is nothing out there for them.

“If you're paying $2,000, plus utilities, you are barely scraping by to get groceries in the house, you're barely scraping by to feed your dog, your kids and you have to sell everything you own to make ends meet.”

Michele Blake is a single mother of a nine-year-old boy and told Castanet, through tears, that she cannot find a single home for her small family, and she is running out of time.

“It has been really tough, holy cow,” says Blake. “Some one bedrooms are coming in at $1,500, I had to stop looking at two bedrooms because they were $1,400 to $1,600, which is not for me.”

She moved back to Kelowna last June to enrol in a medical office administration program for single parents and she couldn't find anywhere to live. Fortunately friends allowed them to move into a spare bedroom, but now they have to move out by June 30 and they can't find anywhere to go.

“I starting looking in March and I just cannot believe ... it is the end of June and there is nothing. It's been brutal,” says Blake who adds they have no pets and she does not smoke.

“I don't think I am going to make it here. I cannot afford $1,250 plus utilities. I don't know how people are doing it? I don't know how single parents can do it.”

She says the competition for the few semi-affordable places she has found is so intense she often doesn't even get a chance to go see the unit before it is taken.

“It's crazy,” says Blake. “I can't be the only one in this situation.”

Ryan Smith, community planning manager for the City of Kelowna, says city staff and council are well aware of the issue and they are taking steps to improve the situation.

“One of the causes is that Kelowna is a very desirable place to be. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country right now, so challenges like this are inevitable, but I think there is some good news on the rental front on the horizon,” says Smith.

“We've permitted, in the last seven or eight months now, more than 1,000 units of new rental housing.”

He says those units are already under construction or about to begin construction.

Smith says the influx of supply should help with the upward pressure of rental costs, on top of incentives from the city for developers that build rental-housing units.

“There is definitely a supply challenge and it is going to be tough for awhile, but I think as some of the new supply makes it on to the market it will change the market a bit,” says Smith.

“Unfortunately it is not a problem we can solve immediately, but the good news is the local markets are responding to this cycle and we are beginning to see that supply build.”

While change may be coming, there are not a lot of solutions for families right now.

“It is tough for everybody, tough for any kind of working family that isn't making $30 an hour and working 14 hours a day,” adds Shane.  

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