British Columbians Face Diverse Housing Challenges in Northern and Island Communities

Oct 11, 2022

Posted by
Matt Mayers
Senior Policy Analyst


In advance of the 2022 General Local Elections, BCREA discussed housing challenges faced by mayors and community stakeholders in several of BC’s unique municipalities. While at first glance, problems may seem lesser in areas like Vancouver Island or northern B.C., where the average home price is ‘only’ $430,000, there is an array of unique challenges preventing would-be renters and buyers in these regions from attaining housing.

The problem is quickly worsening, as nearly half of all municipalities saw their average home prices increase by over 50% between 2016 and 2021.

Unique Housing Challenges Outside Metro Vancouver
Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen outlined challenges potential buyers can face in obtaining mortgage financing in many of BC’s small communities. Banks and credit unions make mortgage approval decisions based on statistics, but when a town’s population is too small to provide meaningful statistics, the institutions become more risk-averse.

Another challenge in small communities like Vanderhoof is getting the insurance that is often required for mortgages. Insurance can be increasingly expensive or challenging to obtain due to wildfires and other natural disasters.

The housing crisis has knock-on effects for other issues and in other areas. Northern Health has identified housing issues as a problem in recruiting doctors, nurses and other professionals to smaller communities. When these issues persist, they can result in relocation and even homelessness in larger cities like Prince George.

“When you don’t address problems in rural areas, the problems get pushed to urban areas,” Thiessen says.

Issues like labour supply shortages, which are a challenge in communities big and small, can also have unique nuances in different areas. In Nanaimo, for example, labour shortages impact not only the building sector but also city staff.

City of Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog explains, “a good year for housing development used to be about $200 million in building permits. By 2019, that doubled. Finding staff to manage two times the applications is a challenge.”

BCREA and real estate boards share many of the same concerns as these mayors.

“Northern communities face many of the same housing supply challenges seen across the province,” says BC Northern Real Estate Board CEO Alex Goseltine. “In seeking solutions, they can face unique obstacles.”

What can REALTORS® do?
The province is diverse, and the issues are diverse, which means the solutions are diverse. There are many actions REALTORS® in northern and island communities can take to do their part in addressing housing affordability. For example, when consumers are in areas at risk of wildfires like Vanderhoof, REALTORS® can get informed on obtaining insurance.

Another great resource is the Rural Real Estate Essentials online course by BCREA, aimed to help BC REALTORS® expand their reach to rural areas so they can identify and manage risks associated with rural real estate.

Supply is nuanced, and REALTORS® can share their on-the-ground expertise of challenges they are experiencing with candidates running for office. In addition, attend all-candidate meetings, learn about the different candidates’ platforms, and vote on October 15 (or sooner through advanced voting).

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