'Vicious cycle’: Report highlights impact of high rent in Kelowna

'Vicious cycle' of high rent

A new report released Monday reinforces just how unaffordable it is to live in Kelowna.

It’s the first Canadian Rental Housing Index since 2018, and looked at data from the 2021 long-form census. Even that information is somewhat out of date when it comes to the current cost of rental housing in the Central Okanagan.

“It’s still a really valuable number to look at and think about how it changes over time. And we definitely saw that Kelowna stood out as a place where the rents being above average for the province, but importantly, the number of households who are overspending on their income when it comes to rent and utilities is quite high in Kelowna, for sure,” said Erika Sagert, policy manager for the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, which compiled the report.

According to the rental housing index, there were 21,800 households renting in Kelowna in 2021. Of those, 44% were spending over 30% of their household income on keeping a roof over their heads. That’s above the BC average of 38%, which was the highest in the country.

The survey also found that 18% of renters in Kelowna use over half their income for housing and utilities.

Sagert points out that the City of Kelowna and the BC government are making strides towards bringing down housing costs, but it’s an uphill battle.

“I know the challenges around housing construction costs are very high. Interest rates being what they are, there’s a labour shortage. And there’s also local opposition to housing, often when we’re looking at projects that are for lower income folks, or middle income earners.

“There’s still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around renter households in general. So, all of those things kind of come into play in a place like Kelowna that also maybe has those vacation rentals. It can make for a very difficult situation for addressing the housing crisis,” Sagert explains.

She equates the shortage of construction workers to the chicken or the egg analogy. “You need workers in order to construct more homes, but you need homes in order to attract workers. So, it really is a vicious cycle.”

Another issue is the aging population. Some people who are ready to downsize, which would free up a larger home for a family, aren’t able to make the transition because there’s not enough viable options in the community.

While the municipal and provincial governments have stepped up, organizations like the BC Non-Profit Housing Association were hoping for more in the spring budget from the federal government.

“We are hearing rumors but there might be something coming out in the fall for houses. But, on that front, it’s again that robust investment that helps produce the kind of housing that Canadians really need. Looking for that level of subsidy that enables those rents to be low enough that local incomes can afford them,” said Sagert.

You can read the full Canadian Rental Housing Index report here.

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