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Vancouver Island housing markets world-class in their unaffordability

Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox Valley among 20 least affordable in survey of Canada, US, UK and more

  • Jan. 30, 2019 12:00 a.m.

Want to live on Vancouver Island?

Be prepared to pay for it.

A recent study has ranked a trio of Island communities as among the most unaffordable housing markets in North America and beyond.

The 15th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey covers 309 metropolitan housing markets (metropolitan areas) in eight countries (Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States) for the third quarter of 2018.

Victoria (13th), Nanaimo (19th) and the Comox Valley (20th) all rank among the worst. You’d have better luck affording a home in Victoria than in Honolulu, but just barely. Miami? Seattle? New York? All more affordable than Nanaimo and the Comox Valley.

The survey calculates communities’ level of affordability by dividing the median house price by the median annual gross household income before tax. This is a widely used method for evaluating housing prices. Communities are given a numerical rating, called the median multiple, with anything 3.0 and under considered affordable and anything 5.1 and over considered severely unaffordable.

The Comox Valley has a median multiple of 7.9, just below Nanaimo (8.0), the Fraser Valley (8.2), Victoria (8.5) and Vancouver (12.6). Other B.C. communities rated severely unaffordable are Kelowna (7.0) and Chilliwack (6.7).

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells says the Comox Valley continues to be a very desirable place to live and this is unfortunately reflected in the difficult housing prices.

“Houses over the last 15 years have gone up by four times their value when you look at their assessments and yet obviously wages haven’t necessarily gone up by four times,” he said. “That certainly brings a lot of pressure to bear.”

He adds there are many people who retire in the Comox Valley and questions what effect this has on the household income calculation in the study.

Roger Kishi, director of homeless & housing programs for the Comox Valley’s Wachiay Friendship Centre, says the results of the study are consistent with what he has been seeing.

According to the 2018 Vital Signs Report, 45.4 per cent of renters spent more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, whereas 20 per cent spent more than 50 per cent of their income on housing.

Kishi says there is work being done to alleviate the housing strain, but vacancy rates are still very low and housing costs continue to soar.

“We’re already in such a deep pit that filling it in and trying to get even to a level place is gonna take a lot of resources,” he said.

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Canada as a whole has a moderately unaffordable rating of 4.0 with Edmonton being the most affordable major market in the country with a rating of 3.6.

Vancouver’s 12.6 median multiple makes it the second most unaffordable market in the world, trailing only behind Hong Kong which has a median multiple of 20.9. Sidney and Melbourne Australia, and Santa Cruz California round out the bottom five. Cape Breton Nova Scotia and Fort McMurray Alberta were the most affordable markets in the survey.

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