British Columbia

Affordable housing crisis forcing some Okanagan families onto the streets

An outreach group that helps people in dire need says a lack of affordable housing in the north and central Okanagan is forcing some families out on the streets.

Vacancy rate in Kelowna to drop as low as 0.5 percent in 2016

There's fewer of these signs in Kelowna these days as the vacancy rate heads to 0.5 per cent. (CBC)

An Okanagan outreach group that helps people in dire need says a lack of affordable housing is forcing some families out onto the streets.

The low vacancy rate is creating bidding wars in the Central and North Okanagan where people looking for rental housing will offer landlords more than the asking price, according to Lia Froese of All Are Family Outreach.

Lia Froese from the All Are Family Outreach group says low income families are falling through the cracks and ending up on the streets because of a lack of affordable housing in the Kelowna and Vernon areas. (Lia Froese)

"We are seeing a lot of people who are either forced to stay in rental situations which are not appropriate for the size of their family or end up in a homeless situation." 

Some landlords are jacking up the prices of their rental units when they become vacant, and others are opting to pull their properties out of the rental pool entirely and advertise them as vacation rentals on websites like Airbnb, said Froese.

"It's an unfortunate situation where it becomes this moral dilemma, and people have to choose whether they want to help those in need, or whether they want to make a lot of money in a short period of time," she said. "Unfortunately, more often, the almighty dollar is the winner in this case."

Single mother and two children forced to live in a tent

In one case a single mother was forced to live in a tent for two months with her one-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter when a rental arrangement fell through, and the family had already given notice on its existing apartment, said Froese.

"It was very desperate," she said. "The teenager was so traumatized by the situation that she actually attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized."

All Are Family Outreach was able to raise donations to pay for the first month's rent on an apartment for the family.

However, there are other families facing a housing crisis or have one looming on the horizon, said Froese.

"It's a consistent thing," she said.  "We don't see any sort of drop in it. As a matter of fact, we are seeing more of an increase and it's alarming."

Kelowna vacancy rate expected to drop to 0.5 percent in 2016

Prospective renters in the Central Okanagan have fewer and fewer rental options, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Spring Housing Market Outlook that predicts the rental apartment vacancy rate in the Kelowna area to drop to 0.5 percent in 2016. 

"The number of new rental units that will be completed in 2016 is not expected to keep pace with the migration-fueled  population growth that the area is currently experiencing," the report says.