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HELSTON: Personal ads and the lengths people must go to find housing

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
September 18, 2015 - 7:54 AM

SINGLE DAD LOOKING TO SETTLE DOWN: Seeking warmth. Security. Positive atmosphere. Must be okay with dogs, kid friendly. Preferably easy on the wallet — and the eyes. Clean and tidy a definite plus.

No, it’s not a personal ad. It’s a wanted ad for housing — creatively embellished, though not unreasonable, as personals are — and in Vernon, the message is repeated many times over, often with much lower expectations. On Vernon Kijiji alone, over 100 wanted ads for rentals have been posted since the end of July. It’s clear many are on the hunt for a place to call home, yet finding the perfect match appears to be as much of a struggle as finding the perfect mate.

You’ll see posts like (and these ones are real): ‘In desperate search of a home for my daughter and I’, ’Two well behaved, small, good looking dogs with four humans need a home,’ and ‘Me and my wife have been searching for a home for some time due to unsafe conditions.’

Some go into detail about their circumstances: ‘We were recently victims of the neighbours blowing up the apartment next to us and shaking up our sense of security. We want to move ASAP.’ That one features a nice picture of homemade muffins to demonstrate more positive neighbourly qualities.

‘We do not party or do drugs,’ others say. ‘We have excellent references.’

Families, students, seniors, and people on disability are all making urgent pleas for home sweet home, but how many are finding safe, affordable, and sufficient living quarters?

The Okanagan is a tough rental market, something a new housing index has exposed. The Canadian Rental Housing Index is a snapshot of rental conditions across the country, and B.C. ranks high on the list of un-wanted attributes. It’s the province with the most people paying over half their income on rent alone, and has the third highest rent across the nation.

The study pays particular attention to the amount of renters paying more than 50 per cent of their gross income on rent and utilities — that’s because spending more than half your earnings on rent is considered a crisis situation. Housing is typically considered affordable if it’s less than 30 per cent of your income.

In the Thompson-Okanagan, the index suggests between 22 and 27 per cent of renters are at that crisis level. Many are also in overcrowded living conditions, meaning the home is too small for the household size and composition. The study also says there’s a major rental shortage across the Okanagan, and estimates thousands of new bedrooms are required to meet the need.

But there aren’t many apartment buildings being built — low-income or otherwise, at least in Vernon. In fact many are disappearing, whether by fire, eviction or demolition. Complicating matters, according to the executive director of the John Howard Society, is that many apartments cater only to renters in the 55-65 plus age range.

“A community that only relies on seniors is not a healthy community," director Barb Levesque pointed out. "We want diversity and vitality in our population. Providing housing for young people and working families is very important.”

A young woman whose Kijiji ad I responded to (she and her boyfriend were desperately looking for a new dog-friendly place to live after their apartment building was evicted) said she felt discriminated against by landlords. She encountered a profound shortage of affordable housing, ‘especially for youths or young adults starting out with pets who can't live in a senior friendly building because of our age.’

The city is aware of the rental housing shortage, and recently instituted a new grant for developers. Hopefully, the incentive works. But construction takes time, and won’t be much help to those people in desperate, urgent need of housing. What about those people who feel unsafe in their current dwellings? Those families struggling in cramped living situations? Those individuals forced to consider giving up pets in order to secure a home?

I guess they put wanted ads online, and hope for a miracle.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © iNFOnews, 2015

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