Editorial on Housing in the Elk Valley

The Editorial for Feb. 25 discusses the issue of housing in the Elk Valley, especially for young professionals and families.

The issue of real estate prices in the province has been a hot topic recently. The market prices in Vancouver are making it hard for people to break into the housing market and are being blamed for driving many young families from the city. And what happens in the province’s largest city will have a trickle effect that will be felt across the province, including the Elk Valley. It may be already apparent in the area.

When the provincial Liberals tabled their 2016 budget last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to ask local MLA Bill Bennett his opinion on the budget the following morning. When it came to the topic of housing, and the new initiative the province introduced to help people who buy new homes – not to be confused with new homeowners – Bennett turned the questioning on the reporters.

“Let me ask you two guys here, you’re both young,” he asked me and Trevor Crawley from the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, “Is it possible to be a young person starting out in life and own a house in Cranbrook or Fernie?”

For me, it was an instant answer – never. Under my current circumstances, I will never be able to afford a house in Fernie. At this point I’m floundering just trying to pay off my student loan.

I understand this is a nuanced issue, and I’m embarking on a career that has never been known for its affluence, but a quick review of my friend circle leads me to believe I’m not alone in this situation. With current housing prices, it would take me years to save enough for a down payment large enough to make a manageable mortgage.

Fernie’s housing market has been more influenced by the Albertan economy than B.C.’s, and as a resort municipality, housing is a critical issue to the residents. Foreign investment and holiday homes are an important part of the economy, but they drive up the property values for the entire market and leave properties vacant while residents and seasonal workers are searching for homes, for a season or longer.

When I responded to Bennett’s question, he replied by promoting the provisions in the provincial budget that will help affordable housing options across the province. While I’m an advocate of affordable housing and am happy about the funding it will receive under the new budget, it won’t have much affect on me or for many others facing the same situation. I’m in this odd financial limbo where I won’t be able to find a house but do not qualify for affordable housing.

There is help on either end of the spectrum, but it seems that there is not much help in the middle – for the young professionals starting a new career or for the young families.