Urban exodus floods Okanagan

STORY BY DAVID WYLIE

Picture a typical couple considering moving to the Okanagan from Vancouver. They are young professionals. Both work remotely—one is a freelance graphic artist and the other works for a big corporation that has recently allowed its employees to work from home.

Rent in the big city is becoming more and more unaffordable, and the young Vancouverites may never be able to buy a house there. They initially moved to Vancouver for the flourishing music and arts scene, which are practically non-existent due to COVID-19 restrictions.

They now want a simpler life in a smaller city, one with easy access to spectacular hiking trails and beaches.

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This couple is part of a growing post-pandemic trend; people are moving out of urban centres—including Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal—and heading to smaller surrounding metro areas. According to Statistics Canada, Toronto and Montreal posted record population losses between July 2019 and July 2020. 

In contrast, the fastest-growing municipalities are suburban areas.

Personal health, the ability to work remotely, and higher housing costs are among the most important factors contributing to the decision of many Canadians to no longer continue living in large urban centres, reports Statistics Canada.

The urban exodus is already being felt across the Okanagan and the trend is not without its mixed blessings.

In Vernon, Kevin Poole, manager of economic development and tourism, reported to City Council how the influx is adding pressure to already strained available housing. The rental vacancy rate in the North Okanagan hub has dipped to only one percent, down from a high of 7.7 percent in 2013. “We have not had a rental market like that at one percent vacancy since 2008, so incredibly low,” he said.

On the plus side, new residents are a boost to the Valley and its small-city lifestyle. “It adds a little bit more diversity within our economy as these people come and hopefully spawn new business concepts as well.”

The trend boosted real estate to boom beyond expectations. 

Sales in March 2021 were up 146 percent in the Interior, with more than 1,700 units sold compared to the 700 units in March 2020. The benchmark price for homes in the Central Okanagan, North Okanagan and Shuswap/Revelstoke saw double-digit percentage increases in year-over-year comparisons in the single-family and townhome categories.

As for the typical couple looking to live in the Okanagan, they decided to lay down roots in Lake Country.

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