STRONG SALES of housing in Kamloops continues, along with record housing prices. The latest year-to-date sales posted show year-to-date home sales in 2021 up 67.2 per cent over last year. The month of March 2021 had sales up 79.5 per cent over March 2020, a near all-time monthly record.
Windfalls for home sellers cashing in, and homeowners who see the equity of their properties increase. Not so good for those trying to buy into the market, and those at the margins squeezed out by the ever-increasing costs of housing.
Kamloops is an attractive place to live, and will likely continue to be so. There are a host of reliable, high paying jobs to underpin the local economy.
There is one of the largest hospitals in the province, and a university of 13,000 on-campus students and 12,000 open learning students. The school district, City of Kamloops and provincial government are also major employers.
Two casinos (when COVID is over) and BCLC provide strong employment. Trucking companies such as Arrow Transportation are large employers. There is also the Domtar pulp mill, Tolko plywood plant, two major railways, and the regional hub for shopping.
This week New Gold, with 610 employees, announced it is planning for its closure in 2030. Loss of that many high paying positions will definitely have an impact on the local economy. But given the depth and breadth of the economy, it seems likely that Kamloops housing will continue to be in demand.
Which means, to keep housing prices at an affordable level, new housing needs to be created.
Urban sprawl, which is how Kamloops has always grown in the past, seems inevitable to some. That’s what’s happening now at the top of Rosehill, where once forest is being turned into housing lots.
That’s what’s happening in Juniper as well. Out at Campbell Creek and in Orchards Walk, building is happening on what once was farmland. There are plans at the top of Aberdeen to build on grasslands.
In the past, most of Kamloops’ growth has happened on what was farmland and ranches. Only the agricultural land reserve has created a buffer from unlimited growth of the city by making it more difficult to build on the edges of the city. But as difficult as it is to convert agricultural land for housing, many favor this urban sprawl option.
Urban sprawl creates housing but it also increases municipal taxes for everyone by increasing costs of services such as garbage, water, sewer, transit and snowplowing to places farther and farther from the centre. Sprawl increases traffic, and creates longer commute times as well.
Meanwhile, on my block in downtown Kamloops is an empty lot. A non-conforming house meant that there was not enough space between two houses, and the empty lot, just shy of 40 feet wide, was deemed too narrow by the City to build on.
Given that on the same block two other recently built houses have sold for record prices, there would be demand for a slightly narrower house on a lot slightly narrower lot. But zoning of the day said that wasn’t possible.
Luckily, the City of Kamloops is now stating they have relaxed zoning to allow for smaller lots, allowing for a house to be built on the empty lot.
As prices go up, and demand for housing escalates, there will be continued pressure to sprawl ever outward. But first, there should be extra effort, and extra incentives to create housing parcels by subdividing existing lots.
There needs to be infill and gentle density, not continued pushing of the boundaries at the edges of the city. All over the city are parcels that could be built on to create new houses using the City’s new policy for smaller lots. Demand is there. Smaller lots would be more affordable too.
Strong housing markets are a sign of confidence. But growth within our existing footprint benefits us all in the end. Creative zoning, not urban sprawl, is the solution to meet our housing demands.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.