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She moved to B.C.’s Interior to find affordable housing. Now, she’s living in a motel

Two years ago, Ashlee Jessee moved from Victoria to Vernon, B.C., lured by the promise of more affordable housing in the province’s Interior.

Now, she’s living in a motel room, as the home affordability crisis spreads throughout the province.

Jessee, along with her partner and children, are among the 14 families who have been priced out in the North Okanagan and now find themselves living in one of the three motels operated by Turning Points Collaborative, a Vernon-based charity that is helping low-income people who have an immediate need for cheap housing amid a nationwide rental crunch.

She says navigating the overheated rental market with two young kids has been one of the most difficult experiences of her life.

“It was honestly terrifying,” she told host Chris Walker on CBC’s Daybreak South. “I used to deal with housing issues all the time when I was by myself, but this was the first time that I dealt with it with my children.” 

“I was very scared for them.”

Rising home rent

The latest census data shows the number of private dwellings of all types has increased by 9.7 per cent in the Greater Vernon area over the past five years, a rate slightly higher than the 9.4 per cent population increase over the same period.

But in a municipality that isn’t subject to the provincial speculation tax, private apartment vacancy has been dropping rapidly: data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) indicates that the vacancy rate in Vernon dropped from 1.9 per cent in 2019 to 0.7 per cent last year, which has pushed the average monthly rent of a two-bedroom apartment from $1,080 to $1,253.

CMHC doesn’t yet have any data for this year, but a search on kijiji.ca shows a two-bedroom unit in Vernon can now cost more than $2,000.   

Private apartment vacancy in Vernon, B.C., has been dropping rapidly. Now, the monthly rent of a two-bedroom apartment in the city can exceed $2,000. (City of Vernon)

Jessee says when she first arrived in February 2020, she rented a bachelor suite for only $800 and after giving birth to her first child, she and her partner moved to a two-bedroom apartment in October the same year for $1,200 per month.

But Jessee says she had to vacate because her landlord needed to move back into the property. After that, she says, she was unable to find anywhere affordable to live and turned to Turning Points Collaborative for help.

Incentive for developers to build affordable homes

Executive director Randene Wejr says Turning Points is receiving four to six calls every week from families like Jessee’s who are looking for help.

“It’s just crazy,” she said.

Wejr says she worries the non-profit won’t be able to afford to keep up with the increased demand, and she hopes all levels of government incentivize real estate developers to build more affordable housing.

Turning Points Collaborative executive director Randene Wejr says her organization has been receiving calls from four to six families every week who need help with affordable housing. (Turning Points Collaborative)

Scott Butler, CEO of Kelowna-based developer Highstreet Ventures, donated $15,000 to Turning Points Collaborative earlier this year. He says in order to encourage developers to build cheaper housing units, all levels of government need to cut the fees associated with building affordable homes.

“We’re also beholden to having to make a margin — you can’t go to a bank with a project that you want to finance and say, ‘Look! We’re going to do this because it’s the right thing to do, and it doesn’t make any money on the bank or financing,'” Butler said.

Highstreet Ventures CEO Scott Butler says all levels of government need to provide tax incentive to real estate developers to get more affordable homes built. (Jan Vozenilek)

Government responsibility

Vernon Coun. Kari Gares, who is also a mortgage broker, says the city has been working on the issue, but admits all levels of government haven’t acted fast enough to address the affordability issue.

“It is a multifaceted issue and it requires upper levels of government to take the initiative and start injecting much needed investment dollars into it to help out the municipalities,” she said. 

Vernon Coun. Kari Gares says all levels of government haven’t acted fast enough to address the affordability crisis in the municipality. (karigares.com)

The website for B.C. Housing shows it has funded more than 500 supportive homes for low-to-moderate income families in Vernon.

Housing Minister David Eby says 100,000 people relocated to B.C. from other provinces last year, and another 100,000 may come from Ukraine this year and he intends to work closely with municipalities to expedite home construction.

“At the provincial level, we’re investing literally billions of dollars into building affordable housing, but it does take time to get those doors open — we have 30,000 units that are complete or under construction right now,” he said.

“I am heartbroken for these families that are in distress … We’re going to make sure that everybody that’s in temporary housing gets into permanent housing.”

B.C. Housing Minister David Eby says he has been working closely with municipalities to provide affordable housing, when the province expects tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine will arrive this year. (The Canadian Press)

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