Revelstoke’s rental crunch

A combination of factors has Revelstoke facing a rental shortage this winter, which has implications across the community

Kevin Farrington has been living off and on in Revelstoke for the past several years. This winter, he made a last minute decision to come back, and it’s costing him in the form of sky-high rental prices.

“People are renting stuff out for ridiculous prices, because they know they have the market cornered,” he said.

He went to see one room in a house that was being rented out for $800. Then he arranged to rent a house in Arrow Heights with some other people, only to find out later another group had offered more.

In the end, he got lucky and found a place through a friend.  Still, he’s paying $700 a month to share a place – about $100 more than he was prepared to.

“Beggars can’t be choosers at this point and I just jumped on it,” he said.

Revelstoke’s seasonal rental market is at a critical point, with not enough places available to meet demand. It’s a landlords market, with tenants paying higher and higher prices to secure a place to live for the winter.

“There’s a massive deficit of rental housing,” said Scott Duke, who owns Revelstoke Property Services and runs the website Revelstoke4Rent.com. “Every person I talk to, I have to apologize. This is all we got and that’s all there is.”

Revelstoke’s rental market has been slowly crawling to this point. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation does an annual survey of vacancy rates in every community in October. For years, Revelstoke had a high vacancy rate, but also high rental prices — a reflection of the seasonal nature of the local market. City officials felt the numbers were skewed. First, CMHC only surveyed apartment buildings and not single-family homes or shared housing. As a result, the numbers could be skewed by one derelict apartment building.

In 2013, the vacancy rate plummeted to less than one per cent, meaning even the worst apartments filled up, said Jill Zacharias, Revelstoke’s social development coordinator.

“We’re going back to what’s normal for Revelstoke, and that is indicative that we need some employee accommodation for people,” she said.

Compounding the situation is that as real estate prices have dropped, many homes that used to be rented out were bought by new people who actually live in their homes. While this is good for some people, it meant the people living there had to move somewhere else.

“We had about five houses that happened with this summer that sold,” said Duke. “We’re happy for the owners, because they were trying to sell them for ages, but that reduced our inventory.”

The problem can be seen with a look through the Stoke List, where many people are seeking rooms to rent. A quick search found 25 ads from people looking for a room, and only nine for people offering.

Greg Fortier, who is looking for a long-term tenant to rent a room in his home in Farwell, said he’s received about 20 responses so far. “It’s overwhelming the number people looking for places,” he said.

While he could rent out his room easily, for almost any price, his main goal is to find the right roommate, and not just a seasonal ski bum. “I’m not trying to make money off it, I’m just trying to get the right roommate,” he said.

Another person I know who just bought a house said he received 36 replies when he advertised two rooms for rent.

The situation has more implications than just a lack of housing for ski bums. It means problems for businesses who need to hire more staff in winter.

“Apparently this year is one of the worst but that’s going to happen because we’re getting more and more people,” said Judy Goodman, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “How it affects businesses is they need to staff up for a busier season, but they can’t find people that have a place to live.”

It also puts pressure on year-round residents by making rent less affordable.

“People need to have a place to live and they need to have a place to live that is suitable for them, that is affordable,” said Zacharias.

According to Duke, the average price of a room in a shared home or apartment is $500-600, depending on the location. That doesn’t include utilities.

What solutions are there? One possibility is making it easier to build legal suites. Currently the provincial building code makes this option prohibitive for many homeowners.

Another suggestion is incentivizing the construction of affordable rental apartments. Right now, developers are more likely to build apartments and sell them off as condo units because there’s a better return on investment, said Alan Mason, the city’s director of economic development.

Lastly, there’s staff housing — an issue that was raised when Revelstoke Mountain Resort was first being developed.

“We have been able to put it off because of that influx of rental homes into the market, but if they have gone back into ownership, we’re going to have to look at this closely and develop some proactive solutions,” said Zacharias.

The resort’s master development agreement calls for staff housing when the resort reaches a certain number of beds. Right now, the resort isn’t close to the threshold, but employee housing is on the radar, said Rob Elliott, the resort’s general manager.

According to a recent economic impact statement released by the resort, it employs about 120 people year round between the ski hill, Sutton Place Hotel and various restaurants. In winter, the number of staff jumps to almost 400.

“At this point we’ve managed to find staff and they’re coming. It hasn’t deterred us at this point,” he said. “We’re getting closer. Maybe we’re not there yet, but it’s creeping up on our concern list.”

Meanwhile, finding an affordable place to live will be a struggle, especially for seasonal workers. Borja Monculli is experiencing it every day, both personally and through his job at the Samesun Hostel. He came to Revelstoke this summer and decided to stay. On top of working, he photographed street scenes and frequently brought his camera to the Summer Street Festival in Grizzly Plaza.

Now, he’s in tricky situation as he tries to renew his work visa. He wants to stay, but he can’t commit to a long-term lease because of the uncertainty of whether or not he’ll be able to stay. The result is he’s competing with dozens, if not hundreds of others looking for a place for the winter.

“Most of the travellers that are arriving at the hostel are in the same problem,” he said.

Farrington, who has rented in Revelstoke many times in the past, said this is the worst he’s seen the rental market.

“Especially because there’s a lot of home owners and landlords that realize they have the market cornered,” he said. “It’s not Whistler and it’s not Banff. I just think people are being a little bit greedy.”

 

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