This house and property is one of the most expensive in the Valley listed at $750,000 for a three bedroom, one bathroom home on just under 40 acres. (Realtor photo)

This house and property is one of the most expensive in the Valley listed at $750,000 for a three bedroom, one bathroom home on just under 40 acres. (Realtor photo)

Affordable housing a challenge in Bella Coola

The average selling price of a home in the Valley is between $300,000 - $350,000

The Central Coast Regional District is undertaking an extensive housing survey of the central coast in the hopes of finding some answers to the region’s housing problems.

The survey, which closes Feb. 19, is aimed at understanding the housing challenges experienced by the people of the Central Coast.

“We have designed the survey to help us fill gaps in what official sources of housing data are not able to provide,” explained CCRD Planning Coordinator Evangeline Hanuse. “We also want to understand residents’ perspectives on housing: the positive, and negative, and what potential solutions could look like.”

Hanuse said that limited data exists at present due to the small sample size of the communities.

“Unfortunately there is no official information regarding rental vacancy rates due to the small sample size of our communities,” said Hanuse. “We have information on market housing prices, the number of homes and type, the size of households and demographic change. Through the survey we hope to better understand individual housing challenges.”

The survey is for on- and off-reserve residents living within the Central Coast Regional District area.

“It is important to hear from people living on and off reserve,” said Hanuse. “Housing is an important issue for everyone in the Central Coast.”

It’s no secret that housing is a challenge for residents of the Bella Coola Valley. Real estate prices have skyrocketed in the past few years, with very few houses available in the range that most would find affordable.

Local realtor Fawn Gunderson (LandQuest) said that most residential properties are being put on the market at far more than their assessed value. In 2020 the typical assessed value in the valley as of July 1 was $162,000 compared to $149,000 in 2019, noted BC Assessment. The numbers are determined by the real estate market in the area and resulted in an average of about eight per cent increase for home owners.

However, of the nine real estate listings currently available in the Bella Coola Valley there is nothing below $265,000 that includes a home and most homes are selling for almost double the average “assessed value” put out by BC Assessment. Vacant land is selling for $250,000, and property that includes a home varies widely, from $265,000 all the way up to $2 million.

“The average selling price of a home in the Valley is between $300,000 to $350,000,” said Gunderson. “This is much higher than the assessed value.”

Gunderson said that most buyers are looking for detached homes with acreage, and she gets plenty of inquiries for rentals, too, mostly for short-term and seasonal workers.

“The biggest housing challenge is the lack of housing and quality of housing. We need nice, well-built, two- to three- bedroom homes on around five acres,” said Gunderson. “We also need some affordable housing for long-term rentals. They don’t need acreage, and could be attached condo style units as well.”

Local realtor Vera Robson (Crosina Realty) says she sees a real need for seniors housing.

“When seniors here in the Valley feel that they no longer can or want to look after their home and property, and in order for them to still be able to live in the Valley (that has been their home for so long), I would love to see a seniors community developed here,” said Robson. “The benefit of this type of development would be two fold: it would give the seniors a desirable place to move and their properties would become available for families.”

The cost of housing has also increased across the province. Figures released by the B.C. Real Estate Association on Thursday (Feb.11) show a 16.1 per cent over the past year. The data showed that the average residential price last month was $845,169, compared to $728,269 in January 2020.

If you are saving for a home in Vancouver, you will have to earn $230,488 as a household each year in order to afford the cost of a “representative home” in the city. That house, valued at $1,342,184, would still require 409 months of saving up to afford the down payment. That’s 34 years, assuming this household saved 10 per cent of its income.

The region that saw the biggest spike was the Kootenays, where homes increased by 28.5 per cent since January 2020 to $427,544 last month. The Fraser Valley saw an jump of 25.8 per cent to $944,996, while the notoriously expensive properties in Metro Vancouver went up 11.2 per cent to cross the million-dollar mark to $1,089,096.

On Vancouver Island, prices have increased by 10.9 per cent to $528,930, while the North saw a 12.6 per cent increase to $339,608, and the Interior went up 26.7 per cent to $500,789. The only region to see a drop was South Peace River, which fell by 22.2 per cent to $197,874.

These numbers make housing in Bella Coola appear relatively cheap in comparison, but when the average annual after tax income per household in the Bella Coola is $34,432 and $56,960 in Hagensborg (as per 2016 census data) those prices become quickly out of reach for most families; it would take the average family 10 years to afford a 10 percent down payment on a $300,000 home.

The situation for on-reserve housing is even more dire, both on a local and national scale. Locally, demand for housing in the Nuxalk Nation far outweighs availability. Vance Snow, asset manager for Nuxalk Nation, told CMNews last fall that more than 100 members have applied for on-reserve housing in which the nation has just 68 lots.

According to a recent report by the parliamentary budget officer, the federal government would have to spend about $1.4 billion more a year to close a housing gap facing urban Indigenous people.

Nationally, about 124,000 Indigenous households are in core housing need, the PBO report estimated, meaning they live in units that stretch them financially, need hefty repairs, or are not large enough for their families. More than half of Indigenous households living in inadequate homes reside in the country’s biggest cities, with Winnipeg housing the highest number based on the PBO’s estimates, followed closely by Vancouver.

Indigenous households are one-and-a-half times more likely to be in housing need than non-Indigenous households, budget officer Yves Giroux noted, with an average annual gap of $5,000 between what they should and do pay for adequate housing.

The situation is even more acute in the North, with Inuit households almost two-and-a-half times more likely to live in inadequate or unaffordable housing. Indigenous families tend to be larger than non-Indigenous households, and census data has shown that multiple Indigenous families can be living under one roof in overcrowded homes.

Hanuse said that the district plans to take the information gathered in the survey and make recommendations for improving the local housing situation.

“After the survey closes, we will take this information and incorporate it into our report and into our recommendations for improving the housing situation in the CCRD,” said Hanuse. “The Housing Needs Assessment will be an important communications document with government and other organizations so it’s important that we collect as many perspectives as we can, and develop a thorough understanding of the complexity of housing in the regional district.”

Residents can complete the survey online here before Feb. 19. The results are expected to be made public by early summer.

– With files from Katya Slepian and the Canadian Press