Statistics recently released by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) are confirming what many Okanagan residents already know: the struggle to find housing is not just a big city problem.
The CMHC data shows the vacancy rate for private apartments in the Vernon area was sitting at one per cent last October, down from 1.9 percent a year earlier.
City councillor and mortgage broker Kari Gares said the low vacancy rate is alarming but not surprising.
“I do see on a daily basis the rental crunch,” said Gares. “This needs to be a priority for us.”
Gares said the main problem is there is not enough housing inventory both for renters and those looking to buy.
She’s hoping the city can address the housing shortage by changing municipal policies and bylaws.
Gares said the city is looking at whether it can streamline the building process for developers to encourage new building.
The city councillor believes streamlining rules around secondary suites could also help fill some of the demand.
“The other thing that I want to look at, too, is a mechanism in which we can market Vernon as an attractive place for other types of developments to come here,” Gares said.
Some Vernon residents say with vacancy rates so low, it’s especially difficult to find an affordable three-bedroom rental for a growing family.
Jordi Fraser said it took her family from September to late December to find an appropriate three-bedroom place where her two kids could have their own rooms.
“Most places start at $2,500 minimum and that’s just shared space where you have one floor and somebody has another floor, which is outrageous,” Fraser said.
Jamey Grant’s family of four is moving to Armstrong after trying unsuccessfully to find a place in Vernon for six months.
“Families are getting squeezed out of the rental market where it is more so you’ve got to have two roommates to be able to afford it,” he said.
Grant said they were lucky to get the rental in Armstrong which was also in high demand.
“We have very good references. I think we are pretty good tenants, but we were competing with over 60 people for this property,” Grant said.
“Really, I believe one of the big reasons that we got it is our current landlord has actually known these people for over 10 years and just gave us a great reference. I think that’s what gave us the edge.”
The low vacancy rate may also be helping to drive up rents in Vernon.
The average apartment rent in the city has increased by more than $200 in the last three years, according to the CMHC data.
In October 2017 the average apartment rent was $836 in Vernon, and by October 2020 it was $1,038.
Many renters report that prices for new leases are much higher than the averages reported by the CMHC.