British Columbia

Kelowna businesses find hiring a challenge with tight rental market

Businesses in Kelowna say they struggle to find workers who don't know if they'll be able to find a place to live.

Seasonal employment a particular challenge with growth of short-term rentals during summer months

A Kelowna apartment complex is built during the summer. Businesses and local officials say the inability for some employees to find housing in the Central Okanagan is hurting employment. (Simon Charland/CBC)

Businesses say the tight rental market is depriving the Central Okanagan of much-needed workers.

Audrey Surrao co-owns three restaurants in the southern Interior, including two in Kelowna.

She says she has identified a number of culinary professionals she'd like to hire, but as she said in an interview for CBC Radio One's Daybreak South's Rent Control series, finding those workers a place to live is troublesome.

"The demands for trained professionals are increasing," she told host Chris Walker.

"Absolutely, the scarcity of [housing] inventory that is available in Kelowna and the south Okanagan ... is a real challenge and competition is fierce. It's low inventory with a lot of people looking."

A problem in the summer, too

Daniel Bibby, chair of Tourism Kelowna, says Surrao is not alone.

He says the seasonal nature of employment in resorts and other businesses creates a crunch every summer, and the growing popularity of short-term renting through websites like Airbnb and VRBO is making things even tougher.

He says some workers are getting together to live in communally rented houses, but many landlords are wary of renting out to arrangements like that.

"I don't know if there is a silver bullet solution out there," he said. "I think it's really going to require putting our heads together between industry, government and developers. We might need to look at tax exemptions for low-income housing developments."

Listen to the full interview with Audrey Surrao and Daniel Bibby:

Not just tourism

Corie Griffiths directs the Central Okanagan Economic development commission and says a survey of 200 business found the problem extends to all sectors of the regional economy

Statistics Canada says more than 4,200 people moved to the Central Okanagan last year, making it the fastest growing metropolitan area in B.C. and the sixth-fastest growing in Canada.

"Over 90 per cent of these companies cite the retention and attraction of skilled labour as being one of their top barriers," she said. "There is a handful that we work with, for example, that buy one or two or three apartments, and, as newcomers come to work for their companies, they offer them a place to live until they are able to find rentals or housing."

Griffith says while all sectors are facing challenges in this regard, the service or retail sector — where wages commonly range from the minimum to $15 an hour — are seeing the greatest difficulty.

With files from David French and Daybreak South

Listen to Rent Control on CBC Radio 1's Daybreak South from Oct. 2 to Oct. 6, 2017