The fact that housing in Fernie is a struggle is news to no-one, especially in 2021.
For Muhammad Qureshi, who moved to Fernie in May to work at Fernie Alpine Resort, the housing crisis snuffed out his dreams for working in the Rockies.
As of mid-November, before the ski lifts even began to turn, Qureshi is on his way back home to Toronto after he couldn’t find housing to last him through the winter season.
“Nothing was working out. I even looked into buying an RV and putting a wooden stove in it. But decided against that.”
Qureshi said that in the future, he’d try a different town.
“I’ll aim for a different city in B.C. next time around,” he said.
Although the quest to find a place to live was a “horrible experience,” Qureshi said that he loves Fernie and he had wanted to stay in town.
“But housing is such a huge issue… very difficult.”
When Qureshi first arrived back in May, he was staying in a master bedroom in a Ridgemont apartment for $850. He started his search for housing in February before he arrived, and only heard back from someone around the middle of April. That place didn’t last long though as the lease ended. All of a sudden, he had 15 days to find something new.
“I couldn’t find anything in Fernie, so I had to move out to Sparwood.”
From there, he moved again to Elkford. When the Free Press first spoke to Qureshi on Nov. 4, he was searching for a place to move to in Fernie. On Nov. 15, he said he was on his way back home to Toronto. He left two days earlier.
“I was going to get an unfurnished two-bedroom near the railway tracks for $2,300. I was making [minimum] wage, which doesn’t even cover rent. I don’t have savings. I told the RCR and lost my job because I couldn’t find a place to stay.”
“I made so many friends and so many cherished memories [in Fernie]. I’m heartbroken.”
The issue stretches far beyond Qureshi. A quick browse of Fernie renters groups on Facebook will reveal that many young workers are hoping to come to the city, but are having difficulties finding places to lay their heads.
Nineteen-year-old Ocean Allan from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, also said that the housing pickings were slim when he was searching. On Nov. 3, he said he’d been looking for a place to rent for about a month and a half.
“It’s been slim, that’s for sure. I’ve been messaging everyone I can. I’ve been getting a few replies, but people are scooping things up pretty quickly, so, it’s a battle. But I am getting there — I got no solid leads yet.”
He was staying in Slave Lake, Alberta at that time. On Nov. 16, Allan said he was in Fernie but staying with family friends. He was still looking for a place to rent. Allan said he would be working for family friends.
Sheila Sherburne, who is general manager for the Fernie Family Housing Society (FFHS), is working to help with the housing situation in Fernie through the FFHS’s affordable housing development, said that she herself also had trouble when trying to move to Fernie in 2014.
There was “absolutely nothing” at that time, she said. She lives in Sparwood.
“If anything, I think it’s gotten worse.”
Every year, Fernie becomes better known worldwide, she said, and more people keep coming.
“Which means we need more people to work. Which means we have less places for people to live.”
She said people will try to rent out whatever they have at the highest price they can, and she doesn’t see a solution to that.
“Unless there is somehow some kind of a price freeze on rental properties. But I do not think you’ll ever find that.”
Rents could be a little cheaper during the shoulder season, but when November comes around, rent goes up, and renters either have to move out or pay the new cost. People have no choice, she said. There are very few long-term leases in Fernie.
The Fernie Family Housing Society is currently developing an apartment building with 35 units catering to the affordable chunk of the renters market, alongside 14 town houses for families, also in the low income and affordable categories.
“At least the apartment building is going to be able to take some of the pressure off,” she said.
Sherburne said the growth of new developments for rentals should be encouraged. There are also “a lot of apartments that do need a lot of work.” People who grew up in Fernie who can’t afford to buy right away also have slim pickings for renting.
“I just think that we have too many people, too little places.”