VERNON - It’s a harsher market in Vernon for those looking to rent and a community outreach worker says it’s even worse than the statistics suggest.
The vacancy rate of available rental units dropped to 3.4 per cent in April 2015, down from 4.1 per cent the same time last year, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s spring market report. Meanwhile, prospective renters will notice the average rent for one, two and three bedroom apartments, and bachelor suits, have all climbed. Bachelors now cost an average $553, up from $531; one bedrooms $670 up from $649; two bedrooms $811 up from $794; and three bedrooms $878 up from $844.
Barbara Levesque, the executive director for the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan, agrees the rental market in Vernon is becoming more challenging for people, but says the housing report is not a true reflection of what’s happening in the city.
“If you’re talking about what’s actually happening on the ground, I think the situation is much more bleak than what the data shows, and that’s already bad enough,” Levesque says.
The John Howard Society works to connect low-income households, and the homeless, with affordable housing in the city, something that’s getting harder and harder to do. The agency networks with landlords in the city, and has a pretty good idea of what costs and availabilities are in Vernon. What Levesque has seen suggests vacancy rates are lower, and rental costs are higher than the report says.
The discrepancy might come down to methodology. The housing corporation conducts its research through telephone interviews and site visits with owners, managers or building superintendents and the survey itself targets only privately constructed structures with at least three rental units. Average rent is calculated based on the owner’s asking price for the unit, and may or may not include extras likes heating, electricity, and hot water.
Levesque believes other factors may be skewing the data as well, such as restricted rental housing in Vernon. Many apartments have a 55 to 65 plus age rule, and that means many of the units included in the study are not available to younger people.
“I think this should be a concern to us. A community that only relies on seniors is not a healthy community," Levesque says. "We want diversity and vitality in our population. Providing housing for young people and working families is very important.”
She also suspects the housing corporation may be counting rooming houses as bachelor suites, and adds many owners and landlords advertise them as such.
“It’s only once you drill down that you see the reality,” she says.
The value of the report, Levesque says, is that it’s a consistent measurement that can be used to compare the market over time and obtain a general trend. But she adds it’s important, especially for decision-makers in the community, to know it’s not a completely accurate reflection of the rental landscape.
“Our staff in the homeless outreach program have noticed it becoming more and more difficult over the past two years,” Levesque says. “It’s always been difficult, but now there’s a real struggle to find affordable housing.”
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