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Are micro suites really an affordable option?

More than 700 micro suites are set to pop up in Kelowna over the next few years, and many are hailing the tiny apartments as one solution to Kelowna’s lack of affordable housing.

Developer Randy Shier recently told KelownaNow that “people should be jumping up and down” at the prospect of so many of them going up in Kelowna, because they provide more affordable housing in the city.

<who? Photo credit: submitted </who> Artist's concept of micro suite development on Dickson Ave.

“They do help the working poor,” he said, noting that a small, relatively inexpensive unit can get people out of slum properties or sketchy shared accommodations.

However, some are questioning how much difference the tiny suites will make, cautioning that they may not be the silver bullet shot straight to the heart of the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Jan Shultz is the executive director of Inn From the Cold Kelowna, an organization that supports people who are homeless and at risk of becoming homeless.

<who> Image credit: KelownaNow </who> Inn From the Cold executive director Jan Schultz

She admits that “any kind of affordable housing will make a big difference” in the city, but said new micro suites will likely still be out of reach of many of her clients.

Kelowna’s vacancy rate sits at less than one per cent, and that makes it tough for her clients on fixed incomes to find homes.

“For our clientele and our guests, ⅞ of the tiny piece [of the market] that is available is totally out of their reach,” she said. With many on an income of less than $1,000 a month, “it’s got to be affordable housing for them to survive.”

But micro suites don’t necessarily fit that category.

“Just to say it’s small housing, or micro housing, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be affordable,” Shultz said.

“We don’t know what kind of costs are involved.”

Luke Stack, speaking as the executive director of the Society of Hope, said the city needs rental options so badly that “all rental housing is welcome.”

He said the low prices of micro suites should help drive down the overall cost of renting in the city, but cautioned: “don’t think it’s a silver bullet option.”

Stack recalls that, just a few years ago, a 500-square-foot, one bedroom apartment would rent for about $700. A new development of micro suites charges anywhere from $700-$850 a month, for 320 square feet of space.

And by some measures, micro suites might not be considered much of a value.

Consider the Ethel Street micro suites, where the cheapest units cost $700 a month for a 320 square foot pad. In those units, tenants are paying $2.19 per square foot of living space.

Compare that to an average two-bedroom condo near the waterfront, where tenants pay about 65 cents for each of the 1250 square feet of living of space.

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