Addressing Housing Affordability in Small Communities: Case Studies from British Columbia

  • Author / Creator
    Cizek, Erika
  • Housing affordability is an issue of increasing social, economic, and political importance in Canada. Concurrent with the broader cost of living crisis, Canadians are forced to spend growing proportions of their income on housing, with homeownership increasingly out of reach for many. However, most research on housing focuses on major urban centres. While the challenges that large cities are facing warrant significant attention, housing affordability in Canada’s rural areas and small towns is often overlooked. In the interior of British Columbia, many small communities are facing housing pressures driven by the transition towards tourism-oriented economies, amenity migration, and short-term rentals. As such, this thesis asks: What are the housing affordability challenges in small towns in the interior of British Columbia, and how do community housing organizations contribute to addressing them? Three specific objectives guide the analysis: (1) to examine local housing market dynamics, including the impacts of short-term rentals; (2) to identify and assess policy initiatives across all three levels of government that seek to address housing affordability; and (3) to describe and evaluate efforts to provide community housing in these locales.
    This research uses a mixed method comparative case study approach, focusing on two communities in the mountainous Kootenay region in the interior of British Columbia: the Village of Kaslo (population 1,049), and the City of Nelson (population 11,106). Both communities are experiencing similar housing pressures, with increasing hardship and insecurity for renters in particular.
    Three main methods were used to address the research objectives. First, policies from all three levels of government were reviewed using a descriptive policy analysis approach, in order to characterize existing jurisdictional powers, regulatory frameworks, and affordable housing initiatives. Second, semi-structured interviews with 21 key informants were conducted in order to gain insights into local housing market dynamics and challenges. Key informants included elected government officials, municipal staff, community housing organization members, tenant advocates, and realtors, with knowledge of Nelson, Kaslo, and/or the broader Kootenay region. Third, a descriptive quantitative analysis of short-term rental data for both case study communities was undertaken, in order to understand the nature and extent of this form of tourist accommodation and its likely impacts on housing markets.
    Key findings revealed that the housing markets in Kaslo and Nelson were defined by high costs and low supply, for both renters and homeowners. Factors contributing to this context included increased demand from amenity migrants, insufficient new supply due to inadequate infrastructure and high construction costs, and social dynamics specific to the private rental market, including tenant blacklisting and landlord apprehension to rent on the long-term market. STR activity, which was found to be at levels equal to or exceeding those found in major Canadian cities, contributed to reducing supply of rental housing, and increasing rents for the stock that remained.
    This research also found that the municipal governments of Nelson and Kaslo had significant responsibilities for housing, due in part to continued downloading from higher levels of government, but had constrained resources to act in this area. Nonetheless, they employed a number of measures to contend with the housing challenges they were facing, such as increasing density through secondary suites and regulating short-term rental activity. In addition, the government of British Columbia has taken action to address the province’s housing crisis, and has been a key partner in the development of community housing in Kaslo and Nelson. By contrast, although the Government of Canada has recently re-engaged with housing issues through the National Housing Strategy, many of its policy initiatives and associated funding streams tend to focus on major urban centres, and small communities often struggle to compete for federal supports.
    Non-profit and volunteer-run housing organizations have been instrumental in the provision of community housing in Kaslo and Nelson. However, these organizations face increasing pressures to deliver housing while contending with limited resources and capacity, as well as stigma surrounding community housing. Despite these significant challenges, community housing organizations have found success through partnerships with other organizations and governments. As Canada contends with a widespread housing affordability crisis, this research provides a foundation for extending inquiry on this topic beyond major urban centres to encompass the unique dynamics of small towns and rural areas.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2023
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.