The affordability gap has been widening when it comes to housing in Kelowna.
While 70% of purpose-built rental units have been added to the market in the past 10 years, 740 in 2021, the cost has risen ~30% in the past year alone. The vacancy rate for rentals currently sits at 2.1% and more than 8,000 renters could be facing struggles to pay their rent and be on the verge of homelessness. This data shows how decades of neglecting to provide an affordable rental housing supply has led to a deficit and forced us into a game of catch up.
Traditionally, the housing continuum for subsidized or supportive housing has been the responsibility of the province. However, it is the local community that feels the outcomes of poverty when it surfaces. The old way of relying solely on rent supplements and BC Housing simply won’t work.
Municipalities need to revitalize incentives, funding mechanisms, land acquisition strategies and bring all the parties (private developers, province, and federal government) around one table to work together to tackle the housing crisis we face today.
Locally, the City of Kelowna Council made the choice to direct all Online Accommodation Platform (OAP) fees collected from sites like Airbnb toward a Housing Opportunity Reserve Fund where the city can purchase land for affordable housing and partner with BC Housing for a capital build with a not-for-profit operator to manage it. While this is a $400,000 annual injection studies have recommended an additional $400,000 of funding, annually, would be needed to keep up with demand.
As a community, a paradigm shift is desperately needed to remove the stigma that results in NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) behaviour when new developments come forward. As land prices rise, people need to live differently often in more densified forms (apartments, townhomes etc.) which means neighbourhoods will change. The stigma of rental buildings and community push back of densified building forms coupled with local politicians caving to community pressure compounds and stalls the supply cycle. With inclusionary zoning that aligns with the Official Community Plan (OCP) this friction can be alleviated – incentivizing more housing to be built in a timely fashion.
We can also look to innovators like the local tech company, Happipad, that promotes co-living and partnering like minded people together. One may have extra room to rent and the other seeking safe, secure accommodation. Solutions like this are simple, and simply need community buy-in for inventory.
Bill 26, a provincial housing policy, which was granted royal assent this past year, allows municipalities to forego Public Hearings for projects aligning with the OCP to further expedite applications to bring more units to market faster.
It’s important to note that each strategy, funding stream or policy is a ‘lever’ to pull when it comes to addressing the housing crisis. There is no silver bullet to solve the challenge completely, but with each lever pulled more people can find housing within the city.
Listen to my interview with Phil Johnson from AM1150 here: