A zero per cent vacancy rate should be cause for great concern and urgent action in Ladysmith. The housing market here and around the island is unsustainable and something needs to change. Help wanted signs and an abundance of people on social media searching for rentals are clear indications of a major problem in our communities. Nobody will fill these jobs if they cannot live here.
Job vacancies range from professional careers to entry-level, but they are all necessary. The island has a lot of seniors who are retired and will need people to take care of them, pour their coffee and sell them groceries, but in order to have these services, young workers need to see a future in the community and have a reason to invest their time. A community cannot function properly when you need to make a fortune elsewhere in order to have a home and be a part of it. Vancouver Island is not a club, it is a functioning economy that needs a diverse workforce and options for sustainable living.
Many people would enjoy alternate living styles, such as boat or RV life, but these options are faced with problems also. Bylaws, lack of space and live-aboard moorage options make this a challenging route that is often looked down on by average homeowners. It is also hard to find something to work toward when owning a house is so out of reach to so many.
It might be romantic to think of the island as a paradise where people come to retire and wait out their end of days by the sea — but the romance is falling apart with a broken economy. Islanders need doctors, editors, nurses, teachers and fast food workers as much as anywhere else. If the housing situation doesn’t change, these people will not be able to stick around and do these jobs or raise families and become long-time community members.
Ladysmith town council is working on a bylaw to regulate renovictions in an effort to protect renters. If the rental market was not one step away from non-existent, this would not be necessary. As council is working on the bylaw, about a dozen tenants are facing eviction so a new landlord at 110 Esplanade can renovate, presumably to charge more than the affordable rent being charged now. If there were options for the renters to move somewhere else, this would be a great project. Instead, a dozen people will be driven out of the community, or worse, into homelessness for it. The owner has an opportunity to do good for the rental market short term, with the four vacant units in the heritage building, but will instead capitalize on the overinflated rental market.
The housing crisis seeps into every edition of the paper because it is affecting so many lives. Oceanview Community Church has raised $58,700 to sponsor a Syrian refugee family — a true blessing for the family and the community, but cannot find a place for them to rent. Pastor Darin Phillips said the father works as a baker, he will be a great asset to the community if they can have a place to stay.
Island residents should welcome newcomers with open arms and not be up in arms whenever a new housing development comes to the table. Local governments need to do all they can to address the crisis. The zero vacancy rate is an emergency and should to be dealt with like one.