Affordability biggest challenge facing Kelowna: Mayor Basran | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Affordability biggest challenge facing Kelowna: Mayor Basran

There are five Urban Centres designated for Kelowna, including downtown.

Kelowna is the fastest growing major city in Canada but that has brought with it a serious affordability problem, Mayor Colin Basran told members of the city's business community today.

“I want to have quick look at how we responded to some key challenges in 2021 and how that sets the stage for the years ahead,” Basran said during his annual State of the City address to the Chamber of Commerce today, March 16.

“None of the challenges we faced was greater – and maybe more unexpected in a pandemic – than the population growth that led to a housing crunch and its effect on affordability.”

The city’s population grew by 13.5% during the 2016-21 census period, the fastest growth of the country’s census metropolitan areas. For Kelowna, that includes the entire Central Okanagan.

READ MORE: Kelowna, Kamloops among three fastest-growing larger cities in Canada, new census data shows

As a result, there are almost 4,000 housing units under construction or in the permitting stage in downtown Kelowna alone.

The city issued 600 occupancy permits for rental units in 2020, 700 last year. It has issued building permits for more than 1,400 new rental units to be completed this year with 1,800 more in the approval process.

Despite that, data released yesterday shows that Kelowna is now the third most expensive city in Canada to rent one-bedroom apartments, behind Toronto and Vancouver.

READ MORE: Kelowna passes Victoria as third most expensive place to rent in Canada

“We also know social issues and affordability are barriers to Kelowna achieving its full potential,” Basran said. “Affordability in Kelowna is a deterrent to attracting employees in virtually every economic sector. For all the people flooding into Kelowna, workers of all descriptions remain at a premium because many cannot afford to live here, so this remains a big focus for my council.”

The city has the plans and policies in place to accommodate growth and make housing affordable, he said, pointing out that not everyone is going to live in highrises.

There are a variety of housing styles, including lower rise apartment complexes and an estimated 800 single-family lots where up to four units can be built to replace existing homes.

And single-family homes will not disappear from the city.

“We’re not expecting everyone to live in a condo,” Basran said. “That’s not what we’re saying. But densification is the way forward for our community both to be financially fiscally responsible as well as environmentally sustainable. That being said, it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop building single-family homes because we know there is also a need for those.”

Basran said the city’s dramatic population growth, and the resulting rise in housing costs and rental rates, may just be an anomaly of the pandemic, but he doesn’t think so.

“I personally believe this rate of growth is going to continue long term because, after all, why wouldn’t you want to call Kelowna home.”

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