Would you like to subscribe to our newsletters?

How billions for middle income housing in Kamloops, Okanagan may help those in need

Image Credit: PEXELS

From the City of Kelowna to the federal government, the flavour of the day for Canada’s housing crisis seems to be to build more rentals for the middle class.

What qualifies as “middle class” ranges from household incomes as low as $42,000 in Kelowna up to as high as $192,000 in the eyes of the BC government.

So how does this help those struggling on minimum wage or social assistance who are increasingly ending up in tent camps with no solid roof over their heads?

“It helps if you think about the rental housing universe as a system,” Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, told

“It’s all interconnected. While it’s really important that we add supply at the lowest end of the market, for that deeply affordable housing, even investing in the middle income does help.”

A number of studies have shown that for every 100 units of purpose-built rental units, even at the high end of the market, about 40 households are able to move up through the rest of the housing system.

Last week, Kelowna city council agreed to a Middle Income Housing Partnership where it will lease land at minimal cost to builders of rental housing where at least 20% of the units rent out for at least 20% below market rates.

That’s geared towards helping households who earn $42,000 to $87,000 per year.

READ MORE: Why Kelowna is building more homes for middle class rather than low income

Later in the week, the province announced an almost $3 billion BC Builds program based on the same kind of idea, using public land to help families earning about $85,000 to $192,000 per year so they don’t have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

That program includes $2 billion in low-interest financing and $950 million in the value of land.

READ MORE: B.C. eyes community, non-profit, underused lands to build affordable rental units

This week, the federal government chipped in another $2 billion in financing for that program.

“It’s not the most efficient thing to do if you’re looking at the bottom end of the market, but it will help,” Richter said.

“Ultimately you need a healthy, balanced rental market and that means supply in the bottom end, supply in the middle and the top end and a vacancy rate of 3-5% and remembering that there are some people, no matter how affordable the rental is, who will never be able to afford to live in the rental market.”

A Zoom presentation hosted by the Alliance to End Homelessness recently showed that homelessness in the U.S. is linked directly to rental rates and vacancy levels.

That country has a vacancy rate of 5% but cities with the highest rates of homelessness have vacancy rates in the 3-4% range.

READ MORE: Lack of housing main driver of homelessness in Kamloops, Okanagan and U.S.A.

Canada’s national vacancy rate is 1.5% while Kelowna and Kamloops are at 1.3%.

“Any additional rental housing is positive but we need to be looking at the needs across the spectrum,” Richter said.

At the other end of that spectrum are things like the 180 tiny homes Kelowna is in the process of setting up in an effort to cut down the number of people with no alternative other than living in tents.

How such tent encampments are handled in the future may also change following last week’s report by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate that calls for a national strategy on encampments to be in place by the end of August.

READ MORE: National response needed for encampment crisis, evictions must end: federal advocate

“At a high level, our thinking on encampments is falling into really dangerous false binaries,” Richter said. “That binary is between, just leave them alone and let them stay in encampments. In the advocate’s report she talks about a right to remain in encampments. I have a real problem with that because that takes the onus off of governments to respond.

“The other part of this binary is this other extreme, which is what we’re seeing in Edmonton and Vancouver and just kicking people out. What’s missing is the positive obligation that communities have to resolve encampments quickly with appropriate shelter and housing.”

That means more than moving people from emergency shelters into tiny homes so more people living in tents can take up scarce shelter beds.

Shelter beds, while suitable for some, have rules that either make it impossible or untenable for some to live there.

Instead, there needs to be a range of housing that is appropriate to the requirements of people who need that housing, Richter said.

Which means that $5 billion for middle-income housing is only one tiny piece in a much bigger puzzle.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. SUBSCRIBE to our awesome newsletter here.