A lack of affordable rental units on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast and the high cost of housing is creating staffing shortages in the service industry and pricing out longtime community residents.
Theressa Logan, the executive director of the Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA), said when people were allowed to work from home over the last couple of years due to COVID, more people moved into the community. The influx drove real estate prices up and the number of affordable rental units down.
As a result, she said, many service industry businesses are having a hard time hiring staff who can't find a place to live in the community.
"It's definitely inventory; it's affordability. There's no one to work, and I don't know exactly how to fix those challenges."
Price out of the community
The Sunshine Coast has long been a popular vacation and retirement community, and many people have second homes and investment properties in the area.
"The prices of homes here are hitting luxury levels where the only people who can afford them are rather wealthy," said Silas White, the emergency housing co-ordinator with the Affordable Housing Society
He said a one-bedroom basement suite in the community can cost as much as $1,500 a month.
"I see a lot that are even higher than that, and a two-bedroom could go for about $2,500," he said. "The [housing crisis] is partly because of affordability but partly because there's just nothing on the market as well."
Over the last few years, 80 supportive units have been added to the Sunshine Coast, but the number of people without a home remains the same, according to White.
"When we bought 40 units in Gibsons ... we thought we'd have the problem solved for years to come ... but the numbers have probably stayed the same despite adding 80 units," he said.
With continual staffing challenges due to the lack of affordable rental units in the community, volunteers pitched in last year to help understaffed restaurants serve their customers.
One business owner — Del Sidhu, the owner of Saffron Restaurant and 22 Taphouse in Sechelt — bought a second property to house new employees, despite the hot real estate market.
Sidhu said he opened 22 Taphouse in June 2021 and recently decided to buy a second property near the restaurant, above the market price, to help house some of his new employees.
"There's no rentals; if there's anything available, it's too expensive," he said.
Sidhu said he still needs 35 to 40 employees to be able to open and run his restaurants full time, but he's had to turn away new employees from other cities because of the lack of affordable rental options in the community.
"We've actually had people coming in from the Vancouver and Surrey area ... but there were no rentals," he said. "There are almost six staff members in the new house right now ... but we had to go to a bidding war to purchase that."
Staffing shortages affecting B.C. Ferries
Last month, Mark Collins, the president and CEO of B.C. Ferries, said staffing is a continuing challenge, and finding new hires in remote communities has been even more difficult, especially as many people in the service industry switched professions during COVID.
"Sunshine Coast is very difficult, Langdale area is very difficult to hire, and more remote communities ... Northern Gulf Islands ... there are certainly some hot spots in our region where we just can't find local staff," Collins said.
Lori Pratt, the director of Halfmoon Bay in the Sunshine Coast Regional District, said she may be moving off coast as early as this summer if she and her family cannot find an affordable rental accommodation by the end of August.
"About a week and a half ago, my landlord gave me notice to be out for Aug. 31 for a family member [moving in] who is under-housed right now, so I'm on the search for a new place to live," Pratt told CBC's The Early Edition, adding she has been renting on the Sunshine Coast for the past 12 years.
Pratt, a politician, real estate agent and a member of the Affordable Housing Society and Sunshine Coast Homelessness Advisory Committee, echoes the concerns over a lack of affordable rental units in the community. She said having two pets is making the search for a new home much more difficult.
New affordable housing developments needed
Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish said the challenge with tackling the housing crisis on the Sunshine Coast is the lack of new developments for affordable housing.
"There's lots of developers building lots of projects, but the affordable housing side just hasn't kept pace with the needs," Beamish said.
He said a current project with the Affordable Housing Society is awaiting building permit approval. The 40-unit building is expected to house approximately 100 people in a mix of unit types, from bachelor to three bedrooms. A portion of the units would also be rented at or near market value.
"The town provided the land four years ago ... and they are now at that stage where they have presented building plans, but that's four years ... so it takes a long time to get a project to market and provide this to meet the needs of the community."