ANYONE INTERESTED in housing in Kamloops should consider reading the City of Kamloops’ Housing Needs Assessment report adopted by Kamloops City council at this week’s meeting. The 203-page report is a thorough review of the current and predicted housing demands in Kamloops.
The Coles Notes is that 65 per cent of Kamloopsians live in households of just one or two people, homeownership remains steady (at 72 per cent), and both renters and new homeowners are paying significantly more than they did 10 years ago.
In only 13 years, Kamloops house prices have escalated. From 2006 to 2019, housing prices have increased 118 per cent while the inflation rate was only 19 per cent. In December 2019, the average housing unit topped $500,000 in Kamloops. That means, homeowners’ equity has gone up over $250,000 in just 13 years. A windfall for existing homeowners, but a barrier for people wanting to buy their first home.
Meanwhile, from 2005 to 2019, the median rent for a one-bedroom unit has increased by 74.4 per cent. Housing is becoming less and less affordable in Kamloops, for both homeowners and renters.
The report has pages of recommendations about housing for families, youth, seniors, low-income, single-parents, and people with disabilities. But for me, the most important recommendation was buried in the last appendix near the end of the report under the sub-heading “Biggest Housing Priority for Kamloops Moving Forward.”
There, the simple sentence states, “Opportunity to increase density through more compact development, providing more zoning flexibility and increased housing diversity.”
Zoning is a powerful thing. In general, once zoning for a neighborhood is established, it remains that way for decades. For example, the neighborhood that I live in has essentially had the same zoning for 60 years. But while the zoning hasn’t changed much in 60 years, our housing needs have.
Sixty years ago, the average household was four people. Now, 65 per cent in Kamloops live in one or two-person households. Having all single-family household zoning created for the Leave it to Beaver households of yesterday ignores the new households of one or two people.
Kamloops needs more smaller lots for fee-simple market housing and creative strata housing options that meet the needs of smaller households. Why not allow six-plexes, or two houses sharing one frontage? Why not allow more multi-family residential in traditional single-family residential neighborhoods? Why not reduce parking requirements when family sizes have shrunk? Why not reduce the minimum lot or unit size?
The zoning of 60 years ago is not what’s required now. More flexibility for smaller households is what will help to keep housing affordable. Perpetuating zoning designed for families of 60 years ago does a huge disservice to households of one or two people. In the end, everyone pays the cost with increased housing costs.
The fact is, anyone who has owned a home in Kamloops over the last few years has likely done well. Increased demand, coupled with limited supply has pushed housing prices to unseen levels. Static zoning benefits the people who already own. But for Kamloops to thrive, there needs to be options for new people to get housing in Kamloops at a reasonable price.
Current homeowners, who benefit from static zoning, may oppose changes to zoning, but prices will continue to go up for both new home buyers and renters unless there are creative changes to residential zoning in Kamloops. Hopefully, City council reads their housing report all the way to the last page. Hopefully, City council commits to creating more density and flexibility in zoning. Otherwise, more and more will be priced out of the Kamloops housing market.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.