A report based on the local municipal rental listing shows housing availability could be keeping newcomers from staying in Fort St. James.
The District of Fort St. James has been maintaining a rental database of rental accommodations and those seeking accommodations to connect renters and landlords in the area.
Out of 182 total profiles over the year seeking rental housing, 60 were people looking to move to Fort St. James, about 30 per cent.
“If we’re going to retain and attract workers here and families here we need good housing and with good housing comes affordability,” said Mayor Rob MacDougall. While he has not yet had time to familiarize himself with the database report or the housing study the District of Fort St. James recently adopted due to budget deliberations, he said it will be discussed soon.
The annual report, generated using the stats from the District of Fort St. James’ housing database of those seeking and renting properties in the area, found that after one full year of the database, there are far more rental housing seekers than there are rental units available.
“We’ve had a lack of housing for three-plus years … now we have the documentation to support what we’ve been seeing,” said Brandi Hanterman of the Fireweed Collective Society, which operates a local women’s safe house and is part of the local housing committee.
Out of the 182 profiles on the database over the year, only 48 had found accommodations.
The problem extends beyond troubles for the employers in the region looking to attract workers.
It also found a lack of rental units of the size and price range of those seeking accommodations, which means those on the lower end of the income scale are being squeezed out of the market.
The majority of those specifying a cost of housing they were seeking said they could afford to pay between $500 and $800, while the majority of the units listed for rent were in the $801 to $1200 range.
Stricter screening of renters due to high demand, Hanterman said it means some women are even staying in abusive relationships longer, with people on income assistance and those with children being screened or priced out.
‘”Because there is such a demand lots of our more marginalized individuals don’t even have an option,” she said.
Over 30 per cent of those with personal information in their profiles in the municipal database who were looking for places to rent were 30 years old or younger and 47 per cent of them were people with children.
The report goes on to examine the labour implications of the housing situation and suggests the lack of availability of rental housing while newcomers seek employment in the area may make it harder for the natural resource industries looking to recruit workers to Fort St. James.
“I think it’s one of those things that has to become a priority for local government, whether it’s local, regional, municipal, whatever. I think we need to look at the numbers and see where we can move things forward,” said MacDougall.
He suggested the answer may lie in the community working to find an investor willing to come in and develop a range of housing.
He also said he wants to look into the possibility of accessing and developing more Crown land on Stuart Lake, opening waterfront up for more people.
“We’ve got a beautiful lake and there’s a limited amount of lakeshore property available,” he said.
Emily Colombo, economic development officer for the District of Fort St. James has formed a housing committee to go through the housing study and database report to look at possible solutions. The committee is still new but she is hoping the committee will be able to look at possible bylaw and policy changes which could help address the situation as a starting point.
Councillor Riley Willick, a member of the housing committee and a building contractor, said there are different initiatives being worked on by different parts of the community, including Nak’azdli and the seniors housing co-op group. He also said there is some talk in the construction industry about possible development.
“We’re trying to pull together all the info and make it available to contractors so they can make informed decisions about where the demand is,” he said. “There’s not a lot we can do but try to put forward policy that encourages development.”
The Nak’azdli Band is working with the housing committee as well as working on their own initiatives to help members seeking housing.
Chief Fred Sam said the band has a long list of people still seeking housing in the community and the band is working on facilitating opportunities with a financial institution for some band members to obtain affordable mortgages. He also said the band is looking into the possibility of building apartments to at least help young and single people find housing.