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High rental market in Kamloops felt by all

Low vacancy rates, high rents have city and university keeping an eye on the market

Kamloops residents at both ends of the economic spectrum are facing challenges in the rental market. Kim Torreggiani, a senior executive at Thompson Rivers University, recently had difficulty finding a new home.

She spent the past month going through some 40 listings before finding a place to stay, after she was evicted from her rental of five years, due to her landlords moving in. When she did find a new home, it cost $600 more than her previous rental. Torreggiani’s new place is also farther away from work, meaning higher travel costs added to her higher rent and cost of living.

Meanwhile a 67-year-old Kamloops woman told KTW she is struggling to find affordable housing.

Shirley, who did not wish to give her last name, is a pensioner. She lives off about $2,500 per month, with $2,200 going to pay her rent at the Country View Motor Inn in Valleyview.

Shirley said she does not qualify for subsidized rent. She said it is difficult to purchase groceries and medication, with the few hundred dollars she has left each month.

Shirley said she was evicted in January from her home at Karamar Apartments, where she was paying $1,058 per month in rent. She said she was connected by ASK Wellness with her current two-bed hotel room, which includes a bathroom and fridge. Shirley said she does not believe the hotel room is worth $2,200, but she feels forced to spend it with no where else to go or risk ending up on the streets. She told KTW she inquired as to why the rent was so high and was told it was due to a lack of housing inventory in town.

“For $2,200, I could have a mortgage,” Shirley said.

Kamloops rents showing comparisons to Vancouver

Torreggiani described rental prices in Kamloops as high. Out of curiosity, while searching for her new place, she checked the current rental rates in Vancouver. The results, she said, surprised her.

She found examples of rental accommodations for the same amount of money as some in Kamloops. She said one of the main reasons she moved back to her hometown of Kamloops from Vancouver seven years ago was the affordability factor. Kamloops has historically been a much more affordable place to live.

Torreggiani said she is now seeing basement suites in Kamloops listed for $2,000 per month.

“I can’t wrap my mind around how people think they can charge that,” Torregiani said. “But they’re $2,000 in Vancouver, too.”

KTW searched basement suites listed for rent on Kijiji for both Kamloops and Vancouver. The River City yielded 28 results, compared to Vancouver’s 33 rental listings. Many were going for the same monthly rates in Kamloops and Vancouver.

The Vancouver rentals ranged from $1,400 to $3,300 per month, while the Kamloops rentals ranged from $1,000 to $3,000.

“The fact we’re narrowing the gap is concerning to me,” Torregiani said.

Torregiani said she would expect to pay more to rent in a large city because it has more amenities. She said she worries Kamloops will lose its competitive edge in attracting workers and students, if it can no longer offer an affordable lifestyle.

In her role at TRU over the years, Torregiani has touted Kamloops’ affordability to recruit employees.

“And that’s not the case anymore,” she said.

The Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation’s October 2021 rental survey showed the vacancy rate in Kamloops is 0.9. Seven years ago, in 2015, the vacancy rate was five per cent.

Shirley said she has tried looking for a cheaper place to rent in Kamloops, but noted she is disabled, needing a wheelchair to get around, due to a leg injury, and cannot get down the stairs of the hotel to view places to see if they meet her accessibly needs. She said she has inquired on some rentals, but potential landlords have been vague about amenities.

Torregiani described the process as a renter looking for a new home as a “full-time job.” She said it is stressful. In her experience, she said listing photos were sometimes misleading and landlord lease requirements were unfair. In one instance, the landlord asked to speak to references, prior to allowing her to view the unit.

Torregiani said demand for rentals in Kamloops is high. In one instance, she was one of 80 people selected to view a unit and it had been viewed 800 times online.

Torregiani said she felt she would be the ideal renter, as she does not smoke or have pets. She said she feels for other people who are trying to compete for rentals with various caveats.

Torregiani lived in Vancouver for 25 years before moving back to Kamloops seven years ago and has been renting ever since. When she moved back home, she expected to save about a third or half the amount of rent money paid in Vancouver.

City, TRU have eye on housing issues

The city’s social, housing, and community development manager, Carmin Mazzotta, told KTW the CMHC’s most recent rental vacancy numbers are extremely concerning.

He said a healthy threshold is between three and five per cent. Mazzotta said the situation is compounded by recent reports about current and projected future housing supply gaps across the country and a housing affordability crisis.

As of the 2016 Census, 47 per cent of renter households in Kamloops were living in unaffordable housing. The 2021 Census data has yet to be released. However, Mazzotta said he anticipates that number has increased over the past five years.

As for the municipal response to housing issues, Mazzotta said the city continues to waive development cost charges on non-profit rental housing or provide funds from an affordable housing reserve to support affordable units in new development, parking reductions for affordable housing and social housing. He said the city also continues to work with BC Housing through a memorandum of understanding to support development of shelters, supportive housing and affordable rental housing.

Thompson Rivers University, meanwhile, is actively trying to increase its supply of student housing in Kamloops. Students have lately had difficulty finding places to live in the city, as a result of limited availability.

The university added 114 units of temporary modular housing last winter and has committed to maintaining it through the end of April 2023. Council also recently approved a development permit for an 80-unit student hosing complex across Summit Drive.

Development in that area could include up to three buildings of student housing. TRU spokesperson, Michelle Nordstrom, told KTW via email on-campus housing is in high demand for the 2022-2023 academic year, and TRU is encouraging students to apply or get on waitlists, if they have not already secured accommodation.