Election 2015: How parties are addressing Kelowna’s long lamented housing affordability problems

The Okanagan’s high housing costs have repeatedly been lamented in both lean and robust times.

Wade Paterson, 28, is a university-educated professional, working a white-collar job in Kelowna.

He moved here from Alberta and over the past five years he’s grown roots in this city, involving himself in a number of community sports, even volunteering to coach in his spare time.

He’s just the type of person that the city’s top tier of thinkers repeatedly say Kelowna needs to attract and keep in order to make the city thrive, both economically and socially.

Finding ample affordable housing, however, hasn’t been simple. 
Like many of his peers, Paterson is a renter.

“I’d love to own a home at some point, but I’m not quite there yet. For now, renting is my best option,” he said.

Adequate rentals aren’t the easiest to come by in Kelowna and to attain the lifestyle he desires, he’s had to make some concessions, like having a roommate.

“It wouldn’t be viable to live on my own. I could live in my own space, but the kind of apartment or suite that I could afford with my budget isn’t the type of place I’d want to live in,” he said.

“By living with a roommate, I get a nice apartment and fantastic location.”

Not all of his friends are willing to make the same sacrifices, however.

Paterson said he has a number of friends who travel “up north” to work. Many of them are currently able to delve into home ownership.

“For most of them (working in Northern Alberta) won’t be long-term, but it’s difficult on them socially,” he said.

“They miss out on things that are happening, or have issues committing to things. It’s tough when you’re home only 50 per cent of the time.”

While Paterson has struck a work/life balance that keeps Kelowna appealing, the Okanagan’s high housing costs have repeatedly been lamented in both lean and robust times.

The disparity is such that Kelowna earned the dubious distinction of continually being placed top of the list of “severely unaffordable” cities across the globe in an annual report published by the organization, Demographia.

Their housing affordability survey has been released for 11 years, and for the last 10, it’s highlighted the disparity between local wages and housing costs.

In their 2015 report, which was released in January, they wrote that the median income of Kelowna households is at $64,000 a year, while the median home price was $409,900, making this city the fourth most unaffordable region in the country. Renters aren’t getting a deal either. As Paterson points out, the cost of living alone can be onerous.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation regularly publishes their rental market survey, and in their June report they listed Kelowna among the most lean rental markets in the country.

As summer got underway the rental rate was at 1.9 per cent. And, with demand surpassing supply, the city-wide average for rent for a two-bedroom unit jumped $34 from $964 per month to $998 per month.

That includes all forms of rentals from all across the region.

Although municipal and provincial governments are oftentimes left holding the bag when it comes to the discussion on affordable housing, the federal government has some influence on increasing cash-flow to prospective buyers and increasing the rental supply.

Each party has addressed their role in some way over the course of the last 60-plus days:

Conservatives will raise the limit on the Home Buyers’ Plan from $25,000 to $35,000 to let first-time home buyers withdraw from tax-free accounts for down payments. Would also establish a permanent Home Renovation Tax Credit for expenses between $1,000 and $5,000.

Liberals will offer tax breaks to developers who build new rental properties, in addition to giving landlords millions for renovating existing housing stocks. Also pledge to remove limits on how often Canadians can use their RRSPs to pay for their homes.

NDP has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as a way to make home ownership more attainable.

Green Party will implement a Guaranteed Livable Income to help low-income Canadians and youth afford a home. Also promise to retrofit all Canadian homes by 2030 to increase energy efficiency, cut heating and electricity bills, and reduce 80 per cent of building emissions by 2040.