Like many cities across Canada, Kelowna is facing unprecedented housing challenges.
“Kelowna, like many other cities across Canada, is facing rapidly escalating housing costs, extremely low rental vacancy and increased population growth,” project manager Michelle Kam told Kelowna council Monday afternoon.
“What we hear from residents will help inform policy and future regulations to enable a healthy housing system for today and tomorrow.”
The needs assessment was presented to council Monday and painted a picture of a city with a serious housing problem.
With a rental vacancy rate of just 0.6 percent and rents on the rise, those who cannot afford to buy a home—the average price of a house in Kelowna is now nearly $500,000 and expected to rise to $900,000 by 2040—are finding themselves squeezed out of the housing market here, according to the assessment.
In addition to looking at the issue now and moving forward, it will help the city with its Journey Home strategy to address homelessness and its healthy housing strategy to look at affordability, said city staff.
According to the assessment, while incomes have risen in Kelowna since 2001 (83 per cent), the median house price has jumped much quicker and much higher (180 per cent) over the same length of time. That has led, in part to a jump in the number of homeless in the city, with an estimated 506 people experiencing some form of homelessness, according to the most recent Point In Time census of the homeless conducted in 2016.
Council was told while there are 1,000 rental units “in-stream” for development in Kelowna, that will do little to alleviate the problem in the long-term.
“This (work) can’t just be about supply, it also has to be about the right supply to meet the needs of our city,” planner James Moore told council.
He said unlike in the past, additional issues like transportation and urban design also need to be looked at when discussing possible ways of developing more housing, a move Mayor Colin Basran welcomed.
“There is no silver bullet solution,” said Basran but he agreed the issue needs to be tackled from a number of directions, including other ways to help such as innovative partnerships with other groups.
Council welcomed the housing needs assessment, praising its depth and the work city staff put into it.
“This is one of the most epic reports we have ever received as a council,” said Coun. Ryan Donn, who appeared to speak for his council colleagues with his praise.
Coun. Gail Given picked on up one of the reasons listed for the city’s current housing problems—treating housing as a commodity—as a major part of the ongoing problem.
She said in some cases, city residents are willing to rent out their homes through a service such as Airbnb—in contravention of current city rules—and get as much in three days from a visitor looking for local accommodation as they would get in rent for a month if the property was in the market. Other people “flip” homes to make a quick buck, she added.
Home flipping—buying and quickly selling— has increased substantially here since 2001 and has contributed to the steep increase in local house prices.
For the city, now that the assessment has been completed, the next step is to build its Healthy Housing Strategy, which will include actions to positively impact the housing challenges Kelowna is facing. As part of building the strategy, the city wants residents to share their housing experiences.
A survey is now available online at the Kelowna’s public engagement website—getinvolved.kelowna.ca—which asks residents about the state of housing today and priorities for the future.
Basran urged the public to not only participate in the survey, but also to go online to the city’s website—kelowna.ca— and read the housing needs assessment report.
The recently released 2017 Kelowna Citizen Survey identified investment in housing as one of the top priorities according to residents.
The housing survey is available until Jan. 15, 2018. Residents will have an opportunity to review the draft Healthy Housing Strategy in the spring once input from residents and stakeholders is completed and the Healthy Housing Strategy is developed.
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