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'It's a crisis': Housing in Kelowna

When Ryan Smith moved to Kelowna in 2002 at age 22 the only place he could find and afford to live was a dingy and cramped illegal basement suite.

"I would have moved into anything, regardless of size or if it was illegal or not," said Smith.

Smith's experience isn't shocking because for decades Kelowna has had a housing crisis and it's only getting worse.

But what is ironic, is that Smith is now the City of Kelowna's director of planning and development and the city definitely frowns upon illegal suites of any kind.

</who>The housing panel was made up of: Brad Klassen, left, of Troika Developments, Ryan Smith from the City of Kelowna, moderator Cassidy deVeer of 3rd Generation Homes and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick.

Smith told his story at today's housing panel hosted by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel near Kelowna airport.

It was the icebreaker for the event that led Smith to admit that the housing shortage in Kelowna hasn't really changed over the past 21 years.

"It is a crisis," he stated.

"And there are no quick fixes. We've never had a more challenging time to get homes built."

The City of Kelowna's Housing Needs Assessment for the next 10 years initially predicted the city would need to see 1,450 new homes (a mix of single-family, townhouses, condominiums and apartments) built every year to keep up with population growth and demand.

The city has had to revise that number to up to 2,600 because the shortage is so severe and the demand so great.

Smith said streamlined city, provincial and federal approvals for home construction can help as will a crackdown on short-term rentals to make long-term rentals more affordable.

</who>A sold-out crowd of 120 attended the housing panel at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel near Kelowna airport.

However, panelist Brad Klassen, the co-CEO of Troika Developments, said much more needs to be done for developers to build more and prices to become more affordable.

He also used the term: "It's a crisis."

"The labour shortage, cost of trades and labour, cost of construction (materials and processes) is up 55% over the past few years and government taxes and fees can account for up to 33% of a unit's cost," he pointed out.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel. The federal government's GST (goods and services tax) exemption on purpose-built rentals definitely moves the needle. It means developers can pass the cost savings on to renters and rents could go down or at least not go up in the future."

But Klassen stressed that much more needs to be done.

"Not just GST exemptions, but PST (provincial sales tax) exemptions and DCC (development cost charges) exemptions," he said.

"It can be done."

Klassen also said robotics can help bring construction costs down with entire wall panels being assembled more efficiently and cost-effectively in factories to be shipped to building sites.

Klassen used the example of him moving to Kelowna in 1988 and building a new house for $75 per square foot, which works out to $150,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house.

Fast forward 35 years, and with inflation, increased construction and labour costs, taxes and fees that that house is likely $1.5 million.

He also told the story of his daughter recently moving to Kelowna and the only place she could find (and afford) to rent is a small, 1970s-era carriage house for $1,900 a month.

</who>The mortgage or rent on a single-family home, above, or townhouse or condominium (both below) are unaffordable for many in Kelowna.

In fact, with median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Kelowna is $1,750, a two-bed $2,660.

The benchmark selling prices of a typical single-family home is $1,068,000, a townhouse $768,000 and a condo $526,000.

The annual median household income in Kelowna is $85,000, yet it takes $140,000 a year in household earnings to be able to afford the mortgage on a $1 million house.

Any family making less is also going to have a hard time buying a townhouse or condo or even renting.

Klassen also brought up the example of Regina, where there are lots of jobs and Troika is building brand new homes priced at $350,000.

But, do you want to live in Regina for cheaper or live the enviable lifestyle in beautiful Kelowna for more than double the price?

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick was also on the panel, explaining how the cost of entry-level ownership homes for families can be more affordable.

He's help found the YeYe Housing Society, which is looking at building 20 townhouses for 25% less than market value by partnering with land owners to get land on long-term leases and taking no developer profit.

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