British Columbia·Priced Out

Tears for tenants forced out of homes as B.C.'s rental crisis spreads to Prince George

Prince George is the latest B.C. city to face a rental crisis and will need thousands of new homes to be built in under a decade to offset the effects, according to a new report.

At least 5,000 new rental units needed by 2031 in order to meet projected growth, advisory group finds

Prince George, B.C.'s iconic mascot 'Mr. PG' will be flanked by new rental primary units being built to keep up with rising demand for new homes in the city. The cost to be Mr. PG's neighbour is also on the rise, though, and out of reach for many, according to a new report prepared for the city. (Kate Partridge)

Everything seems to be getting more expensive. Food, gas and housing prices are on the rise while paycheques are slow to keep pace. 

The CBC News series Priced Out explains why you're paying more at the register and how Canadians are coping with the high cost of everything.

Prince George is the latest B.C. city to face a rental crisis and will need thousands of new homes to be built in under a decade to offset the effects, according to a new report presented to city council this week.

Advisory group Urban Matters was commissioned to look into housing stock for the city and found at least 5,000 new rental units are needed by 2031 in order to meet projected growth and changes to population.

It comes as the city's vacancy rate hit its lowest rate in more than a decade, dropping to 2.2 per cent, according to the latest numbers from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The report says anything below three per cent can place significant pressure on renters.

While the northern city's vacancy is still higher than other major centres like Kelowna (0.6 per cent), Kamloops (one per cent) and Vancouver (1.2 per cent), the drop in available rentals is another blow to Prince George's long-standing ability to market itself as an affordable place to live, while still having access to major market amenities.

Tears of frustration for those priced out

None of this is surprising to Alia Landry. As a single parent of two, she used to be able to rent a house with a backyard for $800 a month. But as the market changed, rent went up and she was forced to move into a smaller space.

"It was stressful. I was sharing a bedroom with my daughter … There were nights when I went to bed crying because I just didn't know what I was going to do," she said. 

Even working full time, Landry was unable to afford a large enough home for her kids, so she applied to get into a subsidized rental unit — which she moved into last June, after waiting three years.

Alia Landry, a single parent with two kids, waited three years for subsidized housing in Prince George. Just five years ago, Landry says she could afford to rent a whole house for her family. (Alia Landry)

"It was like winning the lottery," she said. 

But according to the report, there are many others still on waiting lists for subsidized spots.

Cascading effects

One factor leading to the rental crunch is the red hot housing market that has taken off across Canada.

The average price tag for a home in Prince George jumped 140 per cent between 2016 and 2020, forcing people who once had stable housing to look for new spaces, as landlords sell or upgrade their properties, making them less affordable for those who already live there. 

That's what happened to Dara Campbell and her partner, who had their rental unit sold on them in 2021 — forcing them to move for the third time in as many years.

Dara Campbell and her partner haven't been able to afford to live above ground since 2016. For the outdoorsy couple and their dog, it's been challenging. (Dara Campbell)

Campbell says the difficulty of finding a new home with a limited budget strained her mental health.

"I was really really anxious," she said. "I would cry in my car. It was really hard, just not knowing [where we'd live]."

Urban Matters also found a lack of housing geared toward single adults, couples and seniors.

In all, it said, 10,000 new spaces will be needed over the next decade to address the gaps.

Highest homeless rates in B.C.

Homelessness is also a growing problem, with new data from the province finding that nearly one per cent of the population in the Prince George region has nowhere to live, the highest of anywhere in B.C.

Urban Matters found the City of Prince George will need more than 10,000 new homes in order to make housing accessible over the next decade. (Urban Matters/City of Prince George)

Urban Matters projected the city would need to double its subsidized rental housing stock and emergency shelter spaces in order to address this.

It also says the city could encourage more affordable housing by changing zoning bylaws to make it easier for people to add carriage housing or secondary suites to existing properties.

Prince George Coun. Terri McConnachie, who is also executive officer of the Canadian Home Builders' Association Northern B.C., called the report "daunting" and said it is important for the city to "roll up its sleeves" to address the problems identified.

At this point, though, no changes have been made as council voted to receive the report for information.