It’s not easy finding a decent place to rent in Nakusp and area.
Nakusp’s rental situation is simply a crisis and getting worse, say people looking for and trying to ease the housing shortage in the community.
“There’s no housing for people coming into Nakusp,” says Tim Payne, the executive director of the Arrow and Slocan Lakes Community Services. “We have requests coming in from families, single moms, dads, people with diverse ability — the need is so great all over, there are new families coming into town can’t afford to buy.”
Every day there are posts on local social media sites from people looking for a place to rent in Nakusp and area from people living in trailers with no running water or people searching for weeks or months for a place to live.
Payne, who runs the largest social agency in the village, says the problem even extends down to the logistics of their business.
“When we advertise for positions, we get responses from outside of town and then people who normally would come to town can’t come to town cause there’s no place for them to live,” he says.
Payne’s not the only one to see a crisis.
“The need is dire,” says Shirley Kosiancic, a real estate agent who also runs a for-profit supported-living agency, Spectrum Home and Family Care. “It’s dire because there is none. We have people desperately needing homes, both people coming into work who can’t find places, and people being forced to buy. But then a lot of people can’t afford to buy.”
Kosiancic says she’s contacted by people every day looking for homes, especially for persons with disabilities.
“I just got a call from a couple a half an hour ago, looking for a nice place to live,” she says. “They would be supported by Spectrum, but there’s nothing, we’ve been looking for months for them. But there’s nothing.”
There are no real stats on how many homes are available for rent in the Nakusp area at any given time, and word-of-mouth tends to be the most common way people find a rental. Census data released last week by Statistics Canada indicates there are 555 private households in the community and 350 are occupied by the owner while 205 are rentals.
The age of those homes is also becoming an issue. Three-quarters of the homes were built before 1980 (there were only 15 built in the last five years). Of those occupied dwellings, 50 — about nine per cent of the total — need major repairs.
It’s not just quality or availability — affordability is an issue too.
Census data released last week by Statistics Canada backs up the affordability crisis in Nakusp. Affordable housing is defined in Canada as costing less than 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income.
StatsCan says of those 205 tenants, 41.5 pay more than 30 per cent or more of their income on shelter. That’s slightly higher than the 40 per cent of all households nationally that spend above the monthly threshold.
In Nakusp, monthly rental costs an average of $826. (Things are a little better for homeowners: only 17 per cent spend more than 30 per cent of their monthly income on mortgage payments)
The Arrow and Slocan Lakes Community Services commissioned a housing needs and gap analysis earlier this to get a grip on the issue. Unsurprisingly, the report, by Vancouver’s CitySpaces consulting, found evidence of the desperation of people looking for housing.
Basing their analysis on a rental rate of about $600 (from earlier census data) the consultants said that housing was generally affordable. However, “housing appears to be unaffordable for many vulnerable groups,” the authors concluded. “This largely reflects the relatively low incomes for households in the area relative to other parts of BC.”
Those low-income earners — seasonal, construction, tourism and other workers — are forced into ‘relative homelessness’: while not living on the streets, they are either couch-surfing or living in non-permanent shelters.
“The lack of suitable rental housing options means that some households must live in substandard living situations, such as the use of recreational vehicles and travel trailers as temporary and, in some cases, permanent housing,” the report found.
“The high number of dwellings in need of major repairs is also an area of concern, and it is likely that dwellings in need of repair may be concentrated among the available rental stock. This could put low- and moderate-income households at risk of health effects due to mould, as well as other risks to health and physical well-being.”
The gap analysis identified four especially vulnerable populations.
– Low-income seniors: “Low-income seniors have few rental, non-market housing, semi-supportive, and supportive housing options in the Arrow Lakes area that are accessible, suitable, and affordable to their incomes.”
– Low and moderate-income young families: “The lack of supply of rental properties for this demographic means that many young adults and families often leave the area.”
– Lone-parent households: “the lack of transitional or temporary rental housing in the area means that women fleeing violence frequently must seek housing in communities outside of the Arrow Lakes area.”
– Persons with disabilities: “people with disabilities experience significant challenges finding suitable, accessible, and affordable housing in the Arrow Lakes area.”
Payne has seen the desperation first-hand. His organization has a small two-unit building (one one-bedroom, one studio apartment) and a single apartment in another building. But it’s just a sideline project. The building’s units are not fit for occupation and remain empty. But Payne says the need is so great, that doesn’t stop people from constantly asking about them.
“I met a lady the other day, she was living in a trailer,” he says. “It’s getting to be wintertime, she has no heat, no water, and is looking for a place to live.
“I tried to explain, ‘you know, it’s not in a condition to live in, we’re working on it.’ People say they don’t care, it doesn’t matter, they just want a roof over their head.”
The housing shortage can impact the town’s ability to attract new residents and build the economy. Payne’s organization and others have real difficulties finding housing for new employees.
“We’ve had people who in the summer were camping down by the lake because they had no place to live,” he says. “There were persons I know who had jobs in town but could not manage to keep the job because they had no place to live. They can’t go back and shower and get clean, and then in the morning go to their job.
“So there are just crazy situations like that.”
Kosiancic agrees, saying the housing issue affects the town’s economic health.
“I would say it depresses the community,” she says. “For one thing people don’t move here who could if they could find a place to rent. Many people don’t want to buy at first, they want to rent for a year or two to see if they like it. And I’m sure they would stay because of our fabulous lifestyle. But they don’t come to try it out because they don’t want to buy a home.”
The ASLCS housing study identified five gaps in the Nakusp housing market: the need for market, or privately built rental homes; a lack of affordable subsidized housing for both seniors and the general population; transitional or low-barrier housing to help prevent homelessness and to provide emergency housing; and entry-housing designed to offer cheaper alternatives for people who can buy, like tiny homes or row housing.
But even if social organizations started on the job tomorrow, it might take a year and a half or longer to even begin to address the situation. So for renters, there’s really no end in sight, except to keep digging, and hoping for a lucky break.