KELOWNA BLUES: Musician being driven out by housing crisis
It’s one thing to talk about housing prices continually rising in Kelowna as wealthier people buy up scarce real estate offerings.
But it has become a very real crisis for many people in the city, including Kelowna blues musician Rick Halisheff, performing as Poppa Dawg, as he struggles to keep this spring season from becoming his final days in the city he loves.
“We’re looking at every single option and the last one is, back to Alberta,” he told iNFOnews.ca. “I love Alberta. I love the prairies. But I don’t want to go back there.”
You've no doubt seen or heard Halisheff playing and singing at venues throughout the Okanagan for nearly 30 years. He has been playing professionally in Kelowna since 1995 with bands like Hot Sauce, Dr Shuffleuphagus, Dogskin Suit and, now his mostly one-man show, Poppa Dawg.
COVID hit him and the rest of the music industry hard but he's ready to go as the music scene revives and live gigs are happening again. The real blow came a couple of months ago when his landlady for the past eight years sold the home he’s been renting. He’s been ordered to vacate by July 1.
“She’s a single woman,” he said. “We can’t blame her. We can’t blame anyone for selling a house in this market. It’s bananas, right?”
It leaves him, and all too many other long-time Kelowna residents, in a crunch.
He makes too much money to qualify for subsidized housing – even if non-profit housing agencies like Society of Hope were taking applications – but not enough to qualify for a mortgage in this overheated market.
“We’ve applied for, like, eight mortgages,” Halisheff said. “Because our debt load is too high, I think we’re allowed to get a $50,000 home.”
He says that with a laugh but, being self-employed comes with higher qualification standards for mortgages. Being a musician doesn’t help.
“If you’re a musician, you’re a permanent peon,” Halisheff said, reflecting on the attitude he gets from some. “’Oh, you’re an artist? What do you do for a living?’ I’m an artist. I’m a musician. ‘What’s your real job?’”
The benchmark price for a single-family home in Kelowna passed $1 million last fall and the typical price for a condo was more than $500,000 in March.
He and his wife, Carolyn, have enlisted the help of realtors who have given them tips on properties that might be suitable but nothing has worked out as there are so many bidding wars happening in the market right now.
“The situation we and thousands of others are experiencing is ridiculous,” Halisheff wrote in an email to iNFOnews.ca. “Check out Marketplace for a wild ride... $750 to rent a garage as a shed. Total . . . holes for $1,500/month. A … room for $1,200. People are gouging and it is clear to see every day. Nobody's property tax went up that much and many are taking advantage of this market to rip people off and nobody does anything about it. The real estate market and renters’ market are like the wild west right now and most of us are its unwilling victims.”
He has a small recording studio in his home where he can do some work to supplement what he earns performing and is searching for online jobs to help out.
“If I can have a part-time job doing something online and gigging on weekends, I would be the happiest man in the world,” Halisheff said. “I don’t want to make a bunch of money. I just want to give my wife a beautiful place to live.”
He’s not looking for a free ride.
“This attitude pisses me off, I tell you, people saying: ‘Oh, beggars can’t be choosers,’” Halisheff, 56, said. “I’m not a . . . beggar, first of all. Why can’t you choose to live in a nice place for your later years? There’s all kinds of weird attitudes around this whole thing. It’s so strange. There’s some kind of stigma: ‘You can’t afford a house? Are you good enough to live here?’”
On the other hand, he’s overwhelmed by the love and support from friends through all this. Two have offered interest free loans to help with a down payment. One is looking to buy a house they can rent to him.
“This makes me emotional,” Halisheff said, choking up. “These people have done everything they can for us. It’s beautiful. This is the spirit of Kelowna that I love so much. This is what’s killing us. There’s all this help and what is there?”
What he would love is a two or three bedroom home to rent for less than $1,800 per month.
“Not a 'fixer upper,” he said in his email “Not a 'shared accommodation.' Preferably, we would love a mobile home.”
He’s also looking for some degree of permanence, pointing out that manufactured home parks are on “life support,” in the region.
Central Mobile Park, for example, has been bought by a developer. Halisheff fears, if he’s able to buy something there, he’ll just have to move on again in two or three years, by which time the price of homes could be $2 million.
He is also very aware that there are others worse off then he and Carolyn are.
“It's . . . absurd to me and unacceptable that this is the situation in this beautiful little valley,” Halisheff said in his email. “People who have lived here all their lives are being forced out by greed and an unrealistic market. What, are only billionaires going to live here in the future? Will it be like Vancouver? It already is and it's only going to get much, much worse. My hope is that the market crashes to relieve some of the pressure because this is absolutely untenable and has a finite time to exist.”
He called on governments or big business to help with more affordable housing but realizes that is not going to help him personally right now.
“We’re still looking,” Halisheff said. “We’re full-on the prowl. It depends on what happens in the next six weeks.”
People who may be able to help with a place to live can email Halisheff at email@example.com.
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