Thompson-Okanagan saw big influx of new residents as pandemic changed the world | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Thompson-Okanagan saw big influx of new residents as pandemic changed the world

The Sails at the foot of Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna.
June 15, 2021 - 2:30 PM

The pandemic was hard on a lot of people, sending many into unemployment and shifting family and community dynamics in strange new ways.

But for many, it was also a time to change their way of life and that was made very evident in the Thompson-Okanagan region, as a housing boom took hold. Now there's some empirical evidence backing what many in these Southern Interior cities have been saying.

According to BC Check-Up: Live, an annual report by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia on demographic and affordability trends across the province, the Thompson-Okanagan region added 8,462 new residents in 2020, bringing the total population to 609,320 residents.

“While population growth slowed in 2020 due to a decline in international immigration, the moderation was not as hard felt by our region as compared to other parts of the province,” Karen Christiansen, FCPA, FCA, partner at MNP LLP in Kelowna said in a press release. “Further, the Thompson-Okanagan has seen the fastest population growth in B.C. over the past five years, as many from across the province and outside the province relocated to the region.”

Between 2016 and 2020, the region’s population increased by 7.1 per cent as a result of a growing number of residents coming from other parts of Canada. In 2020, Thompson-Okanagan gained a total of 8,155 new residents from other B.C. regions and provinces, a majority of which were 25 to 54 years old.

Christiansen said that the economy and lifestyle are what is most appealing to people and if it's maintained it will help the city.

“This is critical as natural growth is trending downward as our population continues to age. In fact, Kelowna has the second-lowest fertility rate in Canada, just behind Victoria," he said.

The fertility rate, a projection of how many children a woman will give birth to over her lifetime based on current trends, in Kelowna is 1.12. The rate is lower only in Victoria at 1.03. Across Canada, the average rate is 1.47. The highest fertility rate in a Canadian city is in Lethbridge, at 1.68 births per woman. Kelowna's fertility rate has been declining steadily since 2008, when it was just over 1.6.

In the past five years, the number of residents increased by 53,113 people while only 19,746 residential housing units were completed. In 2020, a total of 4,134 housing units were completed. While down from 5,676 units in 2019, it is still well above the average of 2,525 annual completes between 2011 and 2018.

However, inadequate housing supply and rising prices have become a growing challenge, despite a construction boom, he said.

“Developments have also been increasingly smaller, attached units such as condos. In 2020, 70 per cent of the units completed were attached compared to 43 per cent in 2016. This demand-supply mismatch is pushing housing prices up across the region, especially for larger homes," he said.

Across the Okanagan Valley, the average single-family home sold for $756,200 in April 2021, up by nearly a third (29.4 per cent) compared to April 2020. The average price for an apartment sold in April 2021 was $407,000, up by 12.6 per cent over April 2020. Driving prices is ideal buyer conditions, including a low interest rate environment and lack of supply.

"The region needs to attract residents, especially young families who are being priced out of homeownership in the Lower Mainland. Going forward, it will be critical to encourage greater housing developments to help improve accessibility and affordability for both local and future residents,” he said.

While the Thompson-Okanagan had a different view, B.C. overall saw a massive shift that was not for the better when the pandemic hit and women and young people were disproportionately affected.

As of August 2020, BC’s unemployment rate stood at 10.7%, more than double the rate from August 2019.

In total, nearly 170,000 fewer people were employed in the province compared to last August, a decline of nearly 7%. The impact has been unevenly distributed, with it being significantly worse for more vulnerable groups. The number of women employed in full-time positions declined by 9.4%, close to two times more than the decline for men.

Young workers, those between the ages 15 and 24, also saw historically high unemployment rates.

Nearly one in every four young workers in August were unable to secure employment.

In addition, jobs with full work weeks are increasingly difficult to find, with the loss in full-time positions making up 88% of total job losses. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated industries that require high density and close interaction — a prerequisite for much of the service sector.

While innovative changes to business models such as increased digital offerings and alterations of physical space have helped, the situation remains dire for some industries, according to the BC check up.

The three hardest hit service industries in August were 1) information, culture and recreation which includes media production and entertainment businesses (-31.6%); 2) business services which encompasses building maintenance and administration (-18%); and 3) other services, such as household and personal services (-13.3%). Meanwhile, employment in the hospitality sector — originally the hardest hit by the pandemic — has largely recovered

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