As private clinics close their doors and businesses across the North Okanagan are scrambling for staff, some of the region’s largest employers are calling for more and diverse housing to attract skilled workers.
Malcolm Reid, director of human resources at the Vernon School District, says the lack of attainable housing has led to several job offers falling through in recent years.
“For the first time, we’ve had a number of people who we’ve offered positions to who had to let go of the offer or not accept it because they were unable to find housing in the North Okanagan,” said Reid. “Vernon is the greatest place to raise a family, but you have to be able to find housing to do so.”
School District 22 isn’t the only employer that’s felt the sting of the housing crisis.
Last year, BC Family Doctors announced that one in five British Columbians do not have and cannot get a family doctor. In the North Okanagan, more than 15 per cent of regular full and part-time healthcare positions are vacant, according to Interior Health.
“Like many industries, the health-care sector is facing a shortage of workers. We know that it can be a challenge for people to find housing, and this can be a barrier to attracting new professionals to the region,” said Richard Harding, executive director of clinical operations, North Okanagan and Interior Health Emergency Services Network. “Interior Health supports all efforts to provide affordable housing options in our area, especially housing that supports healthcare professionals’ ability to live in our community.”
With fewer elementary-aged children than people ready to retire, the North Okanagan needs migration and returning residents to sustain its workforce.
According to Community Futures’ Rural BC Economic Bulletin, the North Okanagan’s prime working age population — 25-54 — is below the rural B.C. average at only 33 per cent. Growth in this key demographic is also below average at only five per cent.
“As a principal, I saw lots of kids graduate from high school and move away for university or other post-secondary training and get a job. Eventually, they would want to move back to Vernon to raise a family,” said Reid. “What they’re finding is they’re challenged to do that. They’re not able to come back and find that house and live the life they had growing up, and they’re looking at other parts of the province to do so.”
To meet projected demands in the region, the Regional District of North Okanagan’s housing strategy says that half of the new builds in the area should be either two-bedroom apartments or small ranchers. The remaining half is split between studio suites or one-bedroom apartments and multi-bedroom single-family homes.
“Diverse housing helps our economy thrive through the development of options,” said Leigha Horsfield, executive director, Community Futures North Okanagan. “In order for us to able to attract the nurse, the tile setter, the tech worker and the specialized teacher, we need to have a diverse landscape of housing so that these folks are able to secure a home and get settled in our community.”