The Jonesons — Sarah and Darren with little ones

Too tight rental market in Chilliwack causing real hardship

Overheated real estate market in Chilliwack means overpriced rental market. It's causing obstacles for renters of all kinds

Chilliwack renters are being forced out of their homes due to skyrocketing residential property values.

Dr. Darren Joneson, a medical resident at CGH, describes the competitive Chilliwack rental market as “ferocious,” since falling victim as a “sale-o-viction” — where an owner decides to sell a rental property.

So far the Jonesons have looked at 20 rental homes, but are trying to hold out for one Garrison rental in particular.

“It’s been very tough to find a nice home for a good price,” Joneson said.

Part of the problem is a sudden substantial hike in rents over last year. They didn’t predict that, said Dr. Joneson.

It’s a thousand dollar hike per month in some cases.

“It’s a lot more expensive for a lot less,” he said.

They pay $1400 per month now and consider themselves fortunate. For smaller units, it’s around $1800. Similar sized to what they have is going for $2250 up to $2500.

The doctor wrote a scathing letter to politicians of all stripes, asking, “What are you doing about this housing market?”

He fired off copies to his MP, MLA and City Council, requesting they do something about the housing crisis.

“Do you see it as a problem at all or as a blessing?” he wrote in the letter. “If it’s a blessing, is it because of how much you are making off your own personal properties? Do you feel like you have any power to create change on a policy level regarding the housing prices? If so, do you want to do anything? Is this a problem better pawned off on provincial or municipal governments?

The Jonesons been expecting to stay in Chilliwack for the two years of Darren’s residency, possibly to open a medical practice.

The affordability problem is that housing costs have outstripped wages, he said.

“If someone like me, who in the grand scheme of things is blessed and privileged, is having a hard time in this market, I can’t imagine your average hardworking Chilliwack resident is facing. We hear stories about those on on disability or fixed incomes who have had their homes sold out from underneath them.”

“Part of my job being a doctor is to advocate for patients and people and myself. This is unacceptable.”

Any place worth applying for already has lots of applicants.

“It’s a concerning trend for me, because I want my children to be able to afford a home,” he said. “If this trend continues it’s not going to be a very realistic goal.”

The overheated real estate market led to an overpriced rental market.

It’s causing hardships for anyone looking for a place to rent.

“The rental market is terrible, with such minimal vacancy out there,” said Marlene Harris, outreach staffer with the Chilliwack Salvation Army.

There are more people looking for rentals, than there are places to rent.

“The rental units on the market right now in Chilliwack are either extremely over-priced or high priced, especially for people on a fixed income. With so many people on waiting lists, it’s almost impossible to house them.”

Rent increases have been astronomical.

It was easier last year, with one-bedrooms going for $600 to $700. But the real estate boom in the Lower Mainland has been a big factor.

Now those same small units, and one-bedrooms, go for $900 and up, and there’s not that many available, said Harris.

“It’s definitely causing hardships, and not just for transient people but families with children evicted from their homes because their landlord is selling,” she said.

A wide variety are on the way to becoming homeless, or struggling as working poor.

Some are living in tents, campers, trucks or cars. Or out in the bush.

Part of answer might be creating more affordable housing, she suggested, such as second stage housing, where they could gain life skills.

Al Browne, manager of Homelife Glenayre Property Management, characterized the state of the rental market as “tight.”

How tight?

“It’s the tightest it’s been in 20 years,” Browne said.

He estimated that vacancy rates in rental properties across Chilliwack range from about zero to 3 per cent, with zero available in the Garrison area, while 2.5 to 3 per cent on the Chilliwack side.

What that means is people out there seeking “a specific place in a specific location” and they simply can’t find it.

“It’s a landlord’s market,” Browne noted.

He acknowledged that while existing tenants can only be charged up to 2.9 per cent rent increase yearly, if one was to move out, all bets are off.

“A landlord could ask any rent they want, which is usually market rents, meaning what a willing tenant is willing to pay a willing landlord.”

It has to do with supply and demand. And with no supply, it’s sending the rents through the roof.

Anyone who bought investment property years ago, and saw the market crash in 2008-09, they might not have been in a position to sell until now. Now those rental properties have gone up quite a bit in value.

“If they can make money, or get what they invested back, they throw that house back on the market.”

The rental market has dried up because developers may be building some condos and apartments, but there’s no one building townhomes or houses for rent, Browne said.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz sees it as a repercussion of the housing market explosion in Metro Vancouver.

“It’s a concern,” she said. Some people will have no place to go.

People from points west purchasing homes in Chilliwack like hotcakes is causing the crunch in Chilliwack.

“People are taking advantage of the prices here. That’s what a free market does,” she said.

But the unintended consequences of the housing boom, are perhaps the renters being squeezed out of the market all together.

“It’s pushing people into insecurity and fear,” said Gaetz. “It’s a windfall for some, but a hardship for others. My heart goes out to those suffering. It’s very real, and we’re going to have to do more as a society.”

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