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COLUMN: Days of cheap rent are in the past

The building was old and had seen better days

Years ago, long before I moved to British Columbia, I had a summer when my rent was unbelievably cheap.

During a summer work placement, I found a furnished bachelor suite for $146 a month, including utilities. A parking stall cost me an additional $25 a month. It was centrally located, within a few blocks of almost everything I needed.

This was a few decades ago and times were different then. Wages were also a lot lower, but even with my salary factored in, the cost of living was lower than anything I have seen since then. Prices overall were roughly half of what they are today, but rent rates have increased faster than other costs.

There was nothing luxurious about the place. The building was old and had seen better days. The stairs creaked and the inside of the building looked like the setting for a gritty movie or television series about crime in an inner city environment.

My suite was also the access to the fire escape. If a fire were to happen while I was out, the other tenants would have to break the thin glass window of my door, open my kitchen window and climb down the stairs. Fortunately, there were no fire emergencies and my window remained intact.

This suite was fine for a summer, or even for half a year – especially as I was trying to save money for school. However, had I stayed in that town much longer, I would have looked around for different accommodations.

In that community, there were plenty of housing choices available, all modestly priced. A one-bedroom apartment would have set me back less than $300 a month. A two-bedroom apartment would have been a little more. Houses for sale and for rent were also on the market.

Similar housing options were available in other communities where I have lived in the past. There were houses for sale and rent, apartment units, basement suites and other living options, all at different price points.

When I moved to Summerland, there were only a few places available to rent at the time, and all were single-family homes. It took a number of months before I could find something smaller and more affordable.

And today, finding housing has become even more of a challenge than it was in past years. Housing prices have tended to rise faster than wages, which results in some people priced out of the market for home ownership or rentals.

Finding a place to live is more difficult than finding employment. This is true in numerous communities in the Okanagan and around the province.

Some have suggested that high house prices help maintain a certain character to the community. If housing is expensive, the cost will keep out the people considered undesirable.

However, high-priced housing also takes a toll on a community. Employees will not take a job in a community where they cannot afford to live. This is one factor in the struggle some businesses are facing as they seek to hire staff.

The people who work in the service industry, in hospitality and tourism, in trades, health care and other sectors need to be able to find places they can afford, close to where they work.

This means ensuring there is a range of housing options to meet the needs of the entire community.

The suite I rented at $146 a month is a remnant of an earlier era, and at this point in my life, I have no desire to live in such a unit. It met my needs when I was a student, but my life is not the same today.

Still, there is a need for a supply of housing, at multiple price points. High prices and low affordability are affecting our communities.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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