Housing shortage deters incoming workers: report

Less young professionals are coming to Vanderhoof due to housing shortage, says a recent report.

Less young professionals are coming to Vanderhoof due to housing shortage, says a recent report.

Conducted by UNBC’s Community Development Institute, the Vanderhoof Housing Assessment shows that not only are there not enough units, but the limited supply has also raised rental costs, said Marleen Morris, a CDI co-director.

A two-bedroom basement suite in town, for example, can be $1,300 per month to rent— a price which rivals that of much larger urban centres, the report states.

In fact, Vanderhoof needs more housing for seniors, one or two-person households, low income individuals, and families — or everyone, the report explains.

There are three variables that will affect the type of housing Vanderhoof needs in the future: an aging population, a post-mountain pine beetle downturn in the forest industry, and increase in mineral exploration nearby.

From 2011 to 2026, the district’s number of seniors will increase by 86 per cent and represent more than a quarter of the population, and the possible change in forestry and mining work will affect the number of workers needing accommodation in the area.

However, the cost to build housing is high in Vanderhoof, as it is comparable to the costs to build in the Lower Mainland, Morris said.

The report also states that current housing may also need upgrades in the near future, as most buildings were built in the 1960s and 57 per cent of the town’s housing stock is more than 25 years old.

With the housing assessment, Vanderhoof’s council is looking to strategize and assess the available tools to address housing, said Tom Clement, the district’s Chief Administrative Officer.

“It gives council a good understanding of housing needs in different scenarios,” Clement said.

With tools such as zoning, incentives for contractors, and partnerships with land developers, the district will be able to facilitate future development or redevelopment, he said.

Robin Work, general manager of Work BC in Vanderhoof, said that he is seeing more transient workers in the area struggling to find accommodation.

“We have folks coming to work that don’t have a place to live, a tent on the back,” Work said.

He explained that with the downturn of oil prices and the decreasing job supply in places like Fort McMurray, there are more workers coming to the area to find work, including those who had called Vanderhoof home.

“It’s what happens typically,” Work said. “Fort St. James for example, when the Mount Milligan mine opened, people were coming from as far as Saskatchewan.”

For Ruvimbo Kanyemba, who has come to work in Vanderhoof two and a half years ago, there is not enough low-income housing in Vanderhoof, but some rental units seemed to be under-advertised by landlords to filter potential tenants.

“People are more likely to rent to professionals,” Kanyemba said, as she hears of individuals who had struggled to find housing and encountered wait-lists for some properties, until she left a message including her line of work — then she received a call from the landlord the next day.

Along with people living in a motel or with a family for awhile before they can find a place to live, Kanyemba has found that housing vacancies, spread through private word-of-mouth, could be community-building opportunities for Vanderhoof’s churches.

“I find that people in the churches find it way easier to find a place to rent,” she said. “I’ve even heard of people contemplating on attending church just to find a place to stay.”