Kamloops’ lack of affordable housing the topic at hand at last week’s TRUSU panel discussion

Wade Tomko/ The Omega

Marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, TRUSU’s Equity Committee hosted a panel discussion on the current situation of affordable housing in Kamloops. The event, which filled up TRUSU’s lecture hall, was open to students, staff and the community.

Those on the panel included Jennifer Casorso, the City of Kamloops’ Social and Community Development Supervisor, Kim Galloway, an ASK Wellness social worker, Kelly Fawcett, Kelson Group’s VP Construction, Audrey Shaw, a Kamloops realtor and member of The Kamloops Real Estate Association, and Terry Kading, a TRU political science professor.

While much debate has gone on in recent months about housing affordability in the Lower Mainland, the Kamloops Affordable Housing Panel Discussion presented an opportunity to talk about local issues.

“When we discuss BC, we always talk about Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in terms of housing, but people pay less attention about what happens here in our own community,” said Caitlin Orteza, TRUSU’s Vice President Equity.

The problems with Kamloops’ housing market weren’t the only topics of discussion, as panelists were also asked what can be done about the issue at the local, provincial and federal levels. Students in the audience were also asked to recount their own experiences in trying to find affordable housing.

One student told the panelists that she paid $600 for rent at a place she described as “Harry Potter’s closet,” while another claimed she paid $600 in utilities for a shared house downtown because it was a heritage building.

With the current rental vacancy in the city at one per cent, many domestic students have struggled to find affordable housing in close proximity to TRU. Yet Kading says that the problem is much worse for out-of-region and international students, many of whom have to rent rooms at motels.

Though Kamloops’ current rental vacancy is quite low, Fawcett believes that new investment into the city’s aging housing infrastructure is coming.

“The rental vacancy is stated at 1 per cent, but it’s probably even less than that,” Fawcett said. “We had students calling looking for places to rent in September. Rents have come up to the point where things are getting built, but that takes time.”

Despite this, Fawcett reinforced that Kamloops still has a couple years of “tough times” ahead, as the supply of housing in the city remains quite low. Yet the problem is further compounded by the unaffordable housing in the Lower Mainland, said Shaw.

“A lot of buyers are coming from Vancouver because they can’t even dream of buying down there,” Shaw said. “So that is still pushing our supply, so even though some of our buyers who have lived here all their lives are saying, ‘These prices are crazy’, but I’ve got people coming from Vancouver saying that it’s a great deal.”

Speaking specifically about TRU, Kading noted that for students from out of the region, not being able to find housing isn’t appealing.

“TRU needs to realize that if they want to grow then they need to attract people who aren’t from the region,” Kading said. “But it isn’t attractive if they can’t find housing.”

While all of the panelists agreed that there is no short-term fix to the affordable housing crisis, Casorso said that removing the stigma attached to affordable housing is the first step.

“The stigma runs deep with poverty and affordable housing,” she said. “You get entrenched in your own safety, your own security, which you think might be compromised by affordable housing.”