For resort town workers, housing scarcity is worsening
For more than seven decades, housing availability in the mountain town of Jasper, Alta., has been a challenge.
Although the total number of dwellings is slowly growing, in the past 10 years, the rental units in the primary market – units built specifically as rental – has declined as some units have transitioned into condo ownership. The shortfall in the number of dwellings needed to meet demand in Jasper has gone from 235 units in 2002 to roughly 700 in 2022.
“In Jasper, housing has always been in short supply,” says the town’s mayor, Richard Ireland. “Over the years, efforts have been made to correct that, but the problem seems to just continue regardless of all the steps that have been taken.”
These steps have consisted in asking Parks Canada to release land for the construction of both market and non-market, or subsidized and co-op housing.
Located on a national park, Jasper’s town boundary is constrained by Parks Canada’s regulations to limit the townsite’s physical expansion and protect the environment.
To ensure the town’s population remains in balance with the 118,222 square metres of developable land allocated to Jasper, Parks Canada requires that only those who work or run a business are eligible to live there – and releases parcels as needed.
“We’ve been able to get housing that’s more affordable and stays that way,” Mr. Ireland says. “But even with all the units that have been built, the pressure continues.”
In the face of skyrocketing visitor numbers, the need for more staff in Jasper is growing, and the availability of well-maintained, affordable housing for workers in Canada’s second most popular national park seems to be reaching a breaking point.
Since 2014, vacancy rates in Jasper’s primary rental market have remained close to zero, driving rents up by 30 per cent over the same period.
Christine Reyes (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) and her boyfriend share a one-bedroom apartment in Cavell Apartments, the town’s first purpose-built rental complex developed to provide staff accommodation in the 1970s.
Originally from the Philippines, Ms. Reyes moved to Cavell Apartments in the fall of 2021. Since then, the couple’s rent has gone up by 20 per cent – from $1,075 to $1,270 – and further increases are expected in 2023.
“What we’re paying now is just enough for us to make [ends meet],” Ms. Reyes says, noting she pays an additional $185 a month in parking, storage and pet fees. “I have family back home that I’m sending money to. I don’t think I could send money if rent [goes] up.”
In February, some tenants of Cavell Apartments received a letter from property management, informing them rents would be rising by about 40 per cent this year. The notice cites inflation, interest rates, as well as supply and demand as the drivers of such an increase.
While the proposed hike for existing tenants has been reconsidered, a bachelor suite in the complex was listed in March for a monthly rent of $1,604.50 – a rate akin to downtown Vancouver’s average rent for the same type of unit.
The property management company did not respond to requests for comment.
In a town where a significant share of renters are employed in the tourism industry, and whose hourly wage averages $18.36 (roughly $1.80 less than in B.C.), spending more than $900 a month in rent isn’t a viable option.
For local businesses, this challenge means they have to step in and absorb some of the cost of housing on behalf of their staff.
To ensure she can hire full-time staff year-round, Lynn Wannop, owner of Coco’s Café, has rented a two-bedroom unit in Cavell Apartments for nearly a decade. “That apartment makes it so that I can hold on to staff in the winter, when it’s really slow,” she explains.
Currently, she pays $1,225 a month in rent for the unit, and charges her staff $500 to live there. But in the face of the proposed increases, she wouldn’t have a choice but to continue to pay whatever rate the landlords ask. “As a business owner I have to suck it up and pay,” Ms. Wannop says. “I can’t operate my business without it.”
But spending more in staff housing costs means Ms. Wannop can’t raise wages either.
“I want my staff to be able to afford to live,” she says. “But I can’t afford to pay them any more.”
Moreover, Jasper’s housing shortfall doesn’t only drive rents up – it also creates challenges for tenants who end up living in sub-par accommodations for a lack of alternatives within their budget.
Since November, Max Martin and four friends have shared a five-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalow in the middle of town. While the group pay what they consider a reasonable amount in rent, the condition of the home is precarious.
“We have mould that [the landlords] have refused to come help fix,” Mr. Martin says, adding that “we went without heating for almost seven weeks.”
According to recent inspection reports from Alberta Health Services and the Jasper Fire Department, the dwelling presents critical safety issues, including windows that don’t open, exterior doors that can’t be locked for a lack of keys, faulty heating, and no smoke alarms.
In Mr. Martin’s view, Jasper’s tight rental market allows landlords to take advantage of young workers who, like him, come from overseas attracted by the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
“People should be held accountable for their actions and the choices they make,” Mr. Martin says. “Especially when it comes to other people’s lives. As a landlord you’re in a privileged position where you can have a house that provides you passive income to let live and do what you want.”
But more supply is on the way.
Last December, a new purpose-built rental complex finally received a development permit, six years after the project was first announced. However, a building permit application is yet to be received by Parks Canada (the developer has until Dec. 13 to apply for this permit).
Featuring 144,822 square feet of apartments spread between two buildings, this development is expected to make a dent on Jasper’s housing gap when completed – but it’s unlikely that new market units can support the affordability levels required by tourism and hospitality staff.
Because market housing is subject to speculation and financialization, providing rental housing at rates commensurate to the wages of workers isn’t always possible, as returns for shareholders take priority.
“This model prays on power imbalances and problems that were already in place,” says Laura Murphy, research coordinator at the University of Alberta’s Affordable Housing Solutions Lab. “Especially in Alberta, where tenants are really dependent on landlords … because we don’t have lot of protections for tenants.”
In Alberta there are no limits to how much landlords can hike rents, as long as these increase only once a year.
To address this, Ms. Murphy suggests governments invest in non-market housing, as this “has proven to work time and time and again.”
Currently, there are about 155 non-market units in Jasper, but only 21 of them are rentals – and the landlord’s agreement with the municipality to provide housing at below market rates in the latter ends in 2029.
Like anywhere else in Canada, to boost the supply of suitable housing that remains affordable in perpetuity, Jasper requires support from senior levels of government.
“[In] 2023, council has budgeted a $5-million debenture to assist housing, but we will need some other partners to do that,” Mr. Ireland says. “We now need matching funds from either the province or the feds. We’ve gone to the province and made that application, so we will see what comes of that.”
On March 22, the municipality announced it would receive $6.5-million from the provincial and federal governments.
Combined with private investment, this new funding is expected to create 40 affordable units.
Better.com lays off real estate team and shutters business unit – TechCrunch
Digital mortgage lender Better.com is exiting the real estate business.
The struggling fintech startup laid off its real estate team on June 7, multiple sources confirmed to TechCrunch. The company is said to be shifting from an in-house agent model to a partnership agent model.
One person who was impacted by the move told TechCrunch that the agents had received “little to no severance…after getting a more than 50% salary cut in November in order to ‘ensure’ our jobs to come.”
TechCrunch reached out to Better.com, which declined to comment on the record. It is not clear how many people were impacted.
The news is not shocking considering that rumors of Better.com’s plans to exit the real estate business have swirled for some time as the housing market has experienced a major slowdown driven by rising mortgage interest rates. As early as April of 2022, TechCrunch reported that it was suspected that all of Better Real Estate could be scrapped. The unit was at one time the “baby” of the company, sources said, and where a big chunk of investment dollars were going to go toward in 2022.
Better had been vocal about its desire to build out its purchase experience and move beyond digital lending to help people find and purchase homes — hence changing its name from Better Mortgage to just Better. It was also working to expand value-added offerings like title and homeowner’s insurance as part of its product suite.
“They wanted to touch every part of home ownership,” a source close to the company who preferred to remain anonymous told TechCrunch at the time. “The company invested resources in building out consumer experiences and agent-facing tools for the Better Real Estate business, including its first native mobile app, not all of which came to fruition, given the trajectory of the business.”
Better Real Estate aimed to be competitive with the likes of Zillow and Redfin, and the company had reportedly followed the same salaried-agent model.
Better.com has been making headlines for its layoffs since it first gained notoriety by laying off about 900 employees over Zoom on December 1, 2021. It has since been laying off smaller groups very systematically, say sources. Last August, TechCrunch also reported the fact that Better.com had conducted its fourth round of layoffs since the previous December.
The company is not exactly known for its tactful approach to letting employees go. In less than a nine-month period, it let go of thousands of workers, saw numerous senior executives step down and delayed a SPAC that it still claims to be working toward.
In March, TechCrunch reported Better.com’s SPAC deal with Aurora Acquisition Corp. got a new lease on life, extending its timeframe to close the transaction through the end of Q3 2023.
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Co-ownership deal struck for large heritage home
2223 E. 11th Ave., Vancouver
Asking price: $2,149,000 million (March 6, 2023)
Selling price: $2,099,900 (March 9, 2023)
Days on market: 3
Taxes: $7,080.82 (2022)
Listing agent: Connie Buna, Keller Williams Realty
Buyer’s agent: Noam Dolgin, Heller Murch Realty
What they got
This heritage house built in 1912 is in the desirable Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood on Vancouver’s east side, within walking distance to Trout Lake and schools.
The 2,867-square-foot house is situated on a standard 33- by 122-foot lot, with four bedrooms on the main floor and upper floor, and two bathrooms. There’s a legal two-bedroom suite in the basement, as well as a mature garden.
The purchasers were two couples that entered into a 50/50 co-ownership agreement with a shared mortgage. One couple will live in the basement and half of the main floor, and the other will live on the third level and the other half of the main floor, says realtor Noam Dolgin, who specializes in co-ownership deals.
“They are taking this large heritage house in a great location and turning it into two solid livable suites, and taking advantage of that to bring their price point down instead of paying $1,100 per square foot for half a duplex or a townhouse,” Mr. Dolgin says.
The agent’s take
Mr. Dolgin said the couples met while attending one of his East Vancouver co-ownership property tours. He said the majority of his business is bringing like-minded buyers together to purchase houses and divide them, but with shared yard space. It’s the equivalent of strata ownership, but without the added cost.
“They connected, the timing was right. They wanted the same location, the budgets were similar,” he says. “There was some negotiation around the price.”
The sale completed May 31.
Ottawa real estate: Home sales in Ottawa up 6 per cent in May | CTV News – CTV News Ottawa
The Ottawa Real Estate Board says home sales were up six per cent in May 2023 compared to a year prior, marking the first year-over-year unit sales volume increase since early last year.
New data released by OREB shows that members sold 1,939 residential properties last month, compared to 1,830 in May 2022.
“Typically the highest-selling month, May’s transactions did not disappoint,” said OREB president Ken Dekker in a news release. “This month we saw the first year-over-year unit sales volume increase since February 2022.”
There were 2,822 new listings in May, down nine per cent compared to May 2022 but up 32 per cent from April 2023.
Average sale prices are down year over year, the OREB says. House prices declined seven per cent to an average of $745,902, but on-par with prices in April 2023, when it was $747,123. Average condo prices dropped six per cent from 2022 to $442,859, which is also down two per cent from April 2023.
OREB says year-to-date average home sale prices are at $727,728, a 12 per cent drop from 2022. Condos are averaging $428,394, a nine per cent decrease.
However, the prices in May mark an increase over where prices were at the end of last year, Dekker says.
“We are not seeing steep price escalations yet. May’s average prices stayed on par with April’s, although prices are well over what we saw at the end of 2022,” he said.
Dekker suggested the average sale price could surpass last year’s figures for a month over the same month in the latter half of 2023, provided interest rates did not increase. But on Wednesday, the Bank of Canada raised its overnight rate by 25 basis points to 4.75 per cent on Wednesday, its first increase since pausing hikes in January.
The central bank’s key interest rate has not been this high since April 2001.
Dekker says throughout 2022, there was a correlated drop in sales every time there was an interest rate hike.
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