A little relief for renters on the way

Editorial

Branded last year as one of the least affordable municipalities to rent in Canada, Sechelt has had a much-needed run of good news in recent weeks.

In mid-November, it was the announcement of a $10.4-million boost from the province’s Building BC fund for the Lions Housing Society’s Greenecourt project. Tentatively set to start construction early in the new year, the proposed 104-unit, five-storey apartment block will replace the Lions’ aged bungalows on Ocean and Medusa, resulting in a net increase of 76 units. The housing mix will include about 20 subsidized units for low-income tenants and six suites jointly administered by the Sunshine Coast Association of Community Living. The project will be a big plus for Sechelt.

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Last weekend, the province announced the first phase of the Indigenous component of the Building BC initiative, pledging $6.8 million to shíshálh Nation for 34 affordable rental apartments. The units will be part of what promises to be a flagship six-storey complex, situated on the vacant highway lot north of Raven’s Cry Theatre, that will also house commercial, retail and community spaces. The rental suites will range from studio to three-bedroom units and will serve “some of our most vulnerable Nation members,” Chief Warren Paull said this week. So it’s a big plus for shíshálh.

This week we also report on a private-sector apartment block, The Arbutus, that’s currently under construction on leased shíshálh lands at Port Stalashen, near Wilson Creek. Along with affordability, limited availability of market rentals is a critical issue on the Sunshine Coast; these 46 units will help answer some of that need.

New purpose-built rentals are something of a rarity these days, and it’s telling that Julian Burtnick of Shazach Holdings held up shíshálh Nation’s “excellent development relationship” as one of the key factors in choosing to build at Port Stalashen. The company is also poised to build 42 market rental apartments as part of a mixed-used development on Venture Way in Gibsons, another jurisdiction that has worked hard with developers to responsibly expand its rental housing stock.

These are promising signs in a rental landscape that has been uniformly bleak for too long. This year’s Canadian Rental Housing Index, based on data from the 2016 census, identified almost 900 households on the Sunshine Coast that are functioning at a “crisis level of spending” due to the percentage of their income that’s eaten up by rent.

Nationally, CMHC reported Wednesday that the country’s vacancy rate dropped for the second year in a row, to 2.4 per cent, as “demand for rental housing grew more than supply.” B.C. had a 1.4 per cent vacancy rate and posted the country’s largest increases in average rent, with Kelowna highest at 9.4 per cent. CMHC deputy chief economist Aled ab Iorwerth linked the increased demand for rental housing to “a sharp rise in international migration combined with the aging of the population and employment growth among youth.”

As these trends aren’t going away, let’s hope this run of good news continues.

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