Rita and Jack Vogt are living paycheque to paycheque.
The retired couple moved into their new one-bedroom apartment at the Apple Valley complex in January 2018. The complex was built by the Society of Hope in partnership with BC Housing to provide seniors with affordable homes.
Despite paying rent of only $920 a month plus $15 for amenities, Rita said she gave up part of her prescription medication in order to meet their basic needs.
“I don’t take as many as I’m supposed to because I can’t afford to fill them all at once,” she said. She had to cut out an experimental medication as it was costing the couple $200 a month. The couple gets $1,200 a month each from CPP and their guaranteed income supplement.
They haven’t seen their son in Vancouver for two years because it isn’t in their budget to travel. They walk, and take the bus, occasionally using their other son’s vehicle after they sold their own.
“The grandchildren didn’t come up to us because they didn’t recognize us,” Jack said.
Despite all of this, they say they’re grateful to be in the position they’re in.
“We’re just really happy that we were able to come into a place as new as this. For places, we were on a list two and a half years before we were able to get into here,” Rita said.“We had applied (years ago) because we knew it would take years before people would take us.”
Prior to Apple Valley, the couple, both 67, rented a duplex for 27 years, but were unable to ever find the right time to purchase a home in the Central Okanagan, they said. Jack owned various barbershops in West Kelowna for 35 years and Rita worked as a hairdresser.
The duplex eventually became impractical for the couple, with rising heating costs and their children were out of the nest.
It was more affordable to buy 35 to 40 years ago, Jack said, when they looked at purchasing a home for $80,000 in Glenrosa.
And finding an affordable rental used to be easier for the couple.
“We can’t travel, as far as entertainment, we might go to a show now and then and we have cable TV, we watch a lot of TV or we go to the park and walk, things that don’t cost any money,” Rita.
“We’re sort of maxed out here,” Jack said.
The couple never moved out of the Okanagan because of family. Rita has five brothers in the Okanagan, as well as their children.
Jack said there needs to be low-income housing for seniors, and suggested developers build small pods like those in Japan. He believes the government should release crown land to non-developers so people have a chance to build affordable housing on a lot. He’s wary of the term “affordable housing” because in his experience he found housing that wasn’t necessarily affordable for the family.
The couple researched micro suites when their son was in need of a place, but realized special expensive furniture that had to be purchased for a suite made the mico option unrealistic for them.
Luke Stack, executive director of the Society of Hope, said the couple’s story is a common one in Kelowna.
“There’s a huge demand for rental housing and a large part of that is for affordable rental housing. Affordable to me is where you have enough money to pay your rent and have enough left over for transportation, food, clothing and all that stuff.”
With the growth and the cost of housing in the last 10 years in Kelowna, it’s difficult for people to find rental housing, and as the supply of affordable housing grows, so does the demand, he said.
The society works in partnership with BC Housing and manages 700 affordable housing units in the Central Okanagan.
At Apple Valley, which is opening its third building in October, rent is based on income.
“If their income was $1,800 a month, we would be trying to target a rent of $650 a month,” Stack said.
In a one-bedroom, the highest rent can reach $1,600, he said.
According to the Rental Housing Index, the Central Okanagan is considered to be severely unaffordable, with those making $26,000 in need of an additional $15,400 to afford a one-bedroom unit. Those making between $25,700 to $46,000 need an additional $970 to make rent affordable for a one bedroom.
The demand is high for affordable housing, and Stack there will always be a need for it, he said. Society of Hope originally focused on single-parent families, but it grew to include families and then seniors.
“If our population is growing… that’s a lot of new people coming to town,” he said. “As people want to come here it drives the prices up.”
Stack also said people are often in different stages of life, from students to those who have been divorced or lost their homes in a fire, which can lead to the need for affordable housing.
“We sort of ebb and flow through our life…. that’s why I think it’ll never go away, people are always in different stages in their life.”