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Aging levels off, single family homes still dominate: Sunshine Coast Vital Signs report released

Adults 35-44 now second fastest growing demographic
Catharine Esson, report co-manager, researcher and writer, presents highlights from Sunshine Coast’s Vital Signs 2024 at Seaside Centre on June 3.

The aging, it seems, has slowed for the Sunshine Coast. 

The median age of the Coast has been growing older over the past decades, but it’s now expected to hold steady at 55, according to BC Statistics and the Sunshine Coast Foundation’s first full Vital Signs report in a decade, released June 3. 

Chock-full of statistics and facts, the 24-page overview of the Lower Sunshine Coast’s community health covers nine indicators: economic health, environment, housing, low income, safety, health and wellness, arts and culture and learning. The report amalgamates a breadth of data, from the census, to BC Statistics, to input from more than 40 community organizations.

The report is a “smorgasbord of local information,” said foundation board chair Douglas Allan at the report’s launch at Seaside Centre Monday morning. 

This is the first Vital Signs report or brief since the pandemic, and while the report calls it a “first look at how the pandemic impacted the Sunshine Coast,” the permanence of the pandemic’s effect on the Coast may take longer to discern, according to report co-manager, researcher and writer, Catharine Esson. She has been doing Vital Signs for the past 14 years. 

Fingerprints of the pandemic Esson points to include lower poverty rates during the 2021 census, when financial government supports were readily available, and the demographic shift. 

While adults 75 and older are still the fastest growing demographic (25% from 2016 to 2021), the second fastest growing demographic is adults 35 to 44 (21%), something Esson calls “significant,” adding that it’s “fairly unusual to have had that big increase.” She speculates (highlighting that this is a guess) this includes people who no longer have to work in an office in Vancouver. “Will they stay? That's probably too early to know.”

Some of the remarkable statistics, such as the 23% increase in the living wage between 2022 and 2023, were “part of all of the changes that were going on at that time,” points out Esson. The cost of living spikes were not unique to the Coast and while perhaps pandemic-related, they were also part of wider factors. 

Some of the “structural, relatively unique characteristics” of the Sunshine Coast economy haven’t changed much, said Esson. “Consistent with our aging population, we still have a lot more people who don't make their primary income from employment,” she said. (That number is 46.4% on the Coast, compared to the B.C. stat of 34.2%.) People still live in single-family homes (80% of the housing stock) that they own (79.9% of Coasters are homeowners), said Esson. 

Some of the statistics confirm anecdotal experience for Esson, like the dearth of doctors. The Coast lost a net nine doctors between December 2022 and October 2023, according to the report, leaving the Coast with 1,125 people per family physician in 2024, up from 827 in 2014. 

“It’s part of the story in the province as a whole and we're living it,” said Esson. “It's the numbers, saying, yes, what we've experienced is true.”

In a survey last November, 28% of childcare providers said they couldn’t use all their licensed spaces, staffing being their primary obstacle. Waitlists ranged from 10 to 150 children at facilities. The lack of staff for childcare is “symptomatic of our times,” suggested Esson. “Almost a result, maybe of some of the other statistics that we see such as the age of our population, the number of people who aren't working for a living.. [and] the cost of living, obviously, the cost of housing.”

Asked what stands out as a concern in the report, Esson said the age of the community is always a big concern. (The median age of B.C. in 2023 was 41, according to BC Stats, a good 14 years younger than the Coast’s.) “It affects just about every other section of the report. But it's not new. And it wasn't a surprise.”

The full report is available at, along with background data and source lists for each indicator. 

Other interesting tidbits: 

With an estimated 34,000 people as of July 2023, the population growth on the Coast is at its “highest level in years,” said the report. In 2021-22, a net 726 people moved to the Coast, that net migration number being up from the previous high of 635 in 2007-08. 

As of the 2021 census, 54.1% of locals 15 and older were part of the labour force. 

While the percentage of Coasters who identify as visible minorities grew to 9.1% in 2021, from 6.9% in 2016, that’s way below B.C.’s 34% in 2021. 

The sense of belonging on the Coast was 62%, compared to B.C.’s 46%, a BC Centre for Disease Control survey found.

On the housing front, which previous reports found dire, the message is still grim. 

The percentage of single detached homes on the Sunshine Coast (80%) didn’t change between 2016 and 2021. At 19.8%, the proportion of renters on the Coast is lower than B.C.’s 32.8%. 

Between 2022 and 2023, there were 519 new housing units registered with BC Housing on the Sunshine Coast, including 113 purpose-built rentals in 2022. Those units represented 47% of all the Coast’s purpose-built rentals since 2016.

The Coast’s vacancy rate in September 2023 was 2.01%, with average rents of $1,344 for a studio, $1,617 for a one-bedroom and $2,234 for a two-bedroom home. 

The report also cited McGill University study that estimated the Coast’s loss of housing units to short-term rentals at 110 in 2023, down from 120 in 2022. 

Electric vehicles outnumber hybrids on the Coast now, with ICBC reporting 617 EVs and 533 hybrids – 8.4% of local passenger vehicles. 

The number of wildfires is way up in the Coast-qathet region, rising from fewer than 10 a year (on average) to 30 or more in the past couple of years.

Small businesses are still dominant: Coast enumerates 8,846 businesses and 99 per cent of those have fewer than 20 employees. The report details that $4.3 million in COVID-19 small business loans came to Sunshine Coast businesses.  

The Sechelt Downtown Business Association surveyed members earlier this year and 92% of them said their costs have gone up as much as 150%, rent and wages being the primary culprits. 

The unregulated drug death rate of 35 per 100,000 in 2023 was lower than B.C.’s rate of 46, but a stark jump from 9.6 in 2016. Twelve people died from unregulated drug use in 2023.

Drug offenses, property crime, assaults and traffic violations rose from 2021 to 2022, but most noticeably in Sechelt, where the crime reported rose 13.6%, while in rural areas, including Gibsons, that rose just 2.8%. 

Victims services programs reported a rise in people served to 602 in 2023, from 378 in 2020, with reported increases in violent crime and dating violence. The Yew Transition House managers reported that in recent years, women have been more reluctant to leave abusive relationships because of the housing crisis.

In the 2023-24 school year, School District 46 saw 3,448 students enrolled, including 746 Indigenous students. The six-year completion rate has risen from 82% in 2012-13 to 86% in 2022-23 – which is still behind the provincial completion rate of 92%. This said the Indigenous student completion rate rose from 61% in 2012-13 to 83% in 2022-23 and is trending way ahead of the B.C. average, which is 74%. 

Capilano University’s kálax-ay campus has seen enrollment down by half, with 129 domestic students enrolled in 2023-24, from 255 students enrolled a decade earlier. One-third of the campus’s students are studying shishalh Nation language and culture. 

Professional artists made up 2.7% of the total workforce in 2021, almost triple the national average of 1%. Sechelt’s 140 professional artists put the municipality in third place in Canada for the proportion of people making a living in the arts. There are 1,200 working in the arts, culture and heritage on the Coast – or 7.1% of the workforce (B.C. average is 5.4%).