Vernon's School District 22 says the North Okanagan housing crunch is affecting its ability to hire staff.
The lack of attainable housing is a barrier for hiring and retention, adds Community Futures North Okanagan.
The problem has led to several job offers falling through in recent years, says SD22 director of human resources Malcolm Reid.
“For the first time, we’ve had a number of people who we’ve offered positions to who had to let go of the offer or not accept it because they were unable to find housing in the North Okanagan,” says Reid.
“Vernon is the greatest place to raise a family, but you have to be able to find housing to do so.”
The school district isn’t alone.
In the North Okanagan, more than 15% of regular full- and part-time healthcare positions are vacant, according to Interior Health.
BC Family Doctors announced last year that one in five British Columbians can't get a family doctor.
“Like many industries, the health-care sector is facing a shortage of workers. We know that it can be a challenge for people to find housing, and this can be a barrier to attracting new professionals to the region,” says Interior Health manager Richard Harding.
“Interior Health supports all efforts to provide affordable housing options in our area, especially housing that supports healthcare professionals’ ability to live in our community,” says Harding.
With fewer elementary-aged children than people ready to retire, the North Okanagan needs migration and returning residents to sustain its workforce, says Community Futures.
Its data shows the North Okanagan’s prime working age population – those aged 25-54 – is below the rural B.C. average at only 33%. Growth in the key demographic is also below average at only 5%.
“As a principal, I saw lots of kids graduate from high school and move away for university or other post-secondary training and get a job. Eventually, they would want to move back to Vernon to raise a family,” says Reid.
“What they’re finding is they’re challenged to do that. They’re not able to come back and find that house and live the life they had growing up, and they’re looking at other parts of the province to do so.”
Diversity and density of housing is seen as a solution.
To meet projected demand, half of new builds should be either two-bedroom apartments or small ranchers, according to the RDNO housing strategy. The remaining half is split between studio suites or one-bedroom apartments and multi-bedroom single-family homes.
“Diverse housing helps our economy thrive through the development of options,” says Community Futures executive director Leigha Horsfield. “In order for us to able to attract the nurse, the tile setter, the tech worker and the specialized teacher, we need to have a diverse landscape of housing so that these folks are able to secure a home and get settled in our community.”