FILE - Harrison Hot Springs initiated a housing needs assessment in October 2019 to see where the community was lacking. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

YEAR IN REVIEW 2019: Assessment finds most Harrison rental housing unaffordable

The Observer is taking a look back at some of our top headlines of 2019

From community events to short term rentals and realities about opioids, housing affordability and homelessness, as well as film crews and a cultural hub proposal, there was no shortage of news in Agassiz, Harrison, and surrounding communities this year. In the days leading up to New Year 2020, the Observer is taking a look back at some of these headlines and more.

ORIGINAL STORY: Most Harrison rental housing unaffordable — report

Nearly 60 per cent of renters in Harrison Hot Springs are living in unaffordable housing, according to the housing needs assessment initiated by the village in October.

The assessment, which looked for gaps in Harrison’s housing stock, was provincially mandated with all municipalities in B.C. needing to create one by 2021.

RELATED: Harrison to look at housing needs with new report

The assessment combined statistical information about Harrison with stakeholder interviews to create a thorough picture of Harrison’s residents, their homes and the future of housing in the community.

Harrison homes

Although there are 923 dwellings in Harrison, only 715 are occupied by residents of the village. (The rest are likely vacation homes, which may be putting an “upward pressure on home prices,” the assessment reads.)

More than 80 per cent of these houses are lived in by the owners — significantly more than the percentage of owners in the Fraser Valley (70 per cent) and the province (68 per cent). Renters occupy 19 per cent of the homes in the village, with about 40 per cent of those renters living in apartments.

In general, Harrison’s housing is newer than that in the rest of the Fraser Valley, although the rental stock is older than the owned homes. Housing prices have skyrocketed in the last decade, with the median assessed value increasing 82 per cent since 2011. (The median assessed value for a residential home in 2019 is $604,690, compared to $341,823 in 2011.)

Harrison residents

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harrison residents are older and living in smaller families than those in the rest of the Fraser Valley.

The overall median age of Harrison’s residents is 58 years old, compared to the Fraser Valley’s 41. This median age has been steadily increasing over the years, while the proportion of children has been decreasing.

Currently, only 17 per cent of households in Harrison have children — although the assessment notes that the number of pre-school age children and younger families has increased since the 2016 census.

Significantly, those living in houses they own are substantially older than renters in Harrison.

Homeowners have a median age of 60, compared to the 42-year-old renters. More than half of all renters are in one-person households, compared to about a third of owners.

Likely because of the lower median age, renters are significantly more likely to be working — and particularly working within Harrison.

SEE ALSO: Frustrated Harrison landlord at wits end

About 67 per cent of renters are participating in the workforce, and 41 per cent of those are working in Harrison itself. Homeowners are far more likely to be working outside of Harrison, with only 16 per cent of employed homeowners working in the community.

Homeowners tend to make more money, on average, than renters do and that gap has increased by $6,000 since 2006. (At that time the median income of renter households was $26,727 while owner households made $49,889. Now renter households make a median income of $37,851 while owner households made $67,350.)

Housing affordability: rentals

With this in mind, it makes sense that Harrison’s housing needs assessment found that renters are paying a higher proportion of their income on housing — with about 25 renting households paying between 50 and 100 per cent of their income on their home.

According to the assessment, 58 per cent of Harrison renters are spending 30 per cent or more of their before-tax income on shelter costs.

In Canada, this is the threshold for what is considered affordable housing: spending more than 30 per cent puts the household in a “core housing need” which means they need housing below market rates, and at the right size and quality, in the community.

RELATED: Affordable housing project taking applications

An increase in rental costs is also making it more difficult for renters to afford living in Harrison, particularly as household incomes haven’t increased at the same rate.

The occupancy rate for the area including Chilliwack, Harrison and Kent is only 1.7 per cent, meaning that few rental options are available even if they are affordable. Secondary suites are not common in Harrison because of its 14.55-metre flood construction level, which eliminates the option of basement suites in most detached homes. Residents also noted that many strata bylaws restrict the number of units that can be rented.

The assessment indicated that, as there are no purpose-built rentals in Harrison, “rental options (especially affordable ones) will remain very limited until dedicated affordable units are constructed.”

Housing affordability: ownership

Although Harrison’s renters are facing the bulk of the community’s affordability struggles, homeowners are also seeing some concerns.

Housing is Harrison is significantly more affordable than in Metro Vancouver; however, the nearly 100 per cent increase in assessment value since 2011 means that new homeowners are more likely to face greater affordability challenges than those who have lived in Harrison for years.

RELATED: CMHC expects housing market to recover in next two years after declines

In addition, 70 per cent of the homes in Harrison are three bedrooms or more, and therefore have the highest assessed value in the village. This makes it challenging for new homeowners to purchase in the community. (Currently, a household needs to make $80,000 a year in order to spend less than 30 per cent of their income on a one-bedroom strata home in Harrison.)

Although Harrison has seen 79 housing starts in the last two years, the assessment noted that “the housing stock being built is more expensive for families, and may not reflect the community’s need.” In particular, it noted that prices were too high to attract workers for local jobs.

Next steps

The majority of Harrison’s housing needs assessment focused on data around Harrison homes and residents; however, it had a few suggestions for the future.

Focusing on affordable housing, particularly for single-person, lone-parent and senior households was a key consideration, as the assessment indicated there would be a need for an increase in bachelor, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom dwellings to support a greater variety of needs.

The assessment noted that 45 housing units would have been required in 2016 to fill the gap for those experiencing a critical housing affordability crisis.

Because of their prevalence in the community, seniors are a major target for future housing projects, the assessment said. Currently, just over 21 per cent of Harrison’s seniors are in need of below market-rate housing, and although the senior population isn’t expected to increase exponentially, an aging population and a trend towards aging in place means more housing units will be required for fixed- and low-income seniors.

RELATED: Agassiz Harrison seniors offer input for National Seniors Strategy

Residents at public engagement meetings also noted that seniors would be interested in housing like Agassiz’s senior living complex, which provides one- and two-bedroom independent living along with long-term care rooms.

The assessment also noted that young families will continue to be priced out of Harrison unless there is more construction of higher-density starter homes, including townhouses, with one- or two-bedrooms. These types of homes would also be a positive inclusion for seniors looking to downsize.

It also indicated there needs to be a balance between vacation homes and workforce homes so “part-time vacationers actually have someone to serve them when they are in Harrison.”

Harrison Housing Demographics
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grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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