Packing up and leaving Squamish

Local families are relocating to more affordable housing

 

With a new baby in tow, Shannon Byrnes knew she had to move away from Squamish for a comfortable life. 

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Her young family was living in a one-bedroom apartment suite, and affording a place with a second bedroom proved to be difficult. 

“We were living in a one-bedroom but it was more like a studio with sliding doors. Our son would need his own room at some point, but that’s become too expensive,” said Byrnes, who is a clinical counsellor. 

She and her husband were paying $975 a month in rent and, she said, as soon as they left, their landlord upped the price to $1,400. 

“We came to the conclusion that we had to leave. If we stayed in Squamish, we wouldn’t be able to expand as a family and have another child,” said Byrnes. “But we loved Squamish, we’re into the outdoors, and both my husband and I had good jobs.”

She said it was particularly hard leaving with a new baby because Squamish has many new parents and great early childhood programs. 

Still, she said her family had no choice but to move. They bought a two-bedroom house on a quarter acre in Clearwater, a community an hour and a half north of Kamloops, last year because of the lower cost of living in the area and to be closer to family. 

“We paid $185,000 for the house. The same thing would have been easily $750,000 in Squamish.”

Byrnes is one of a growing number of people, often with young children, who has left Squamish recently because of the rising cost of living. Year after year, the price of real estate continues to climb, pricing some families out of the community. 

The benchmark price of an apartment in Squamish, $330,900, is up 54 per cent from five years ago and 20 per cent from a year ago, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver June report.

Townhouse prices have also skyrocketed, jumping 67 per cent from five years ago and 23 per cent from a year ago to $575,700.

The situation for single-family houses is similar. At a benchmark price of $729,300, the price of houses have risen 53 per cent in the past five years and 24 per cent during the last year. 

Rental prices are also rising, with it becoming difficult to find a one-bedroom apartment suite under $1,200 a month. 

Some landlords raising rents as soon as their tenants move out. An influx of people from the North Shore and other areas of the Lower Mainland are also attributing to the demand in Squamish, one of the fastest growing communities in B.C. 

Nathan Illerbrun moved to Vernon earlier this month with his wife and two young children because of the cost of renting in Squamish. He was paying $2,000 a month in rent for his home in Valleycliffe, a price that had steadily increased since he moved in. Now that he’s left, he said, his landlord plans to more than double the rent. 

Illerbrun bought a house in Vernon, his original hometown, a year ago with long-term plans of moving to the North Okanagan community to live closer to family. 

“It wasn’t a hard decision. We had no options in Squamish. We couldn’t afford the rent,” he said. “The Squamish market is really competitive and with two kids and a dog, I’m at the bottom of the list.”

He said leaving the community in Squamish was difficult but necessary. 

“I was really attached to the street where we lived. My daughter had her best friend there. But we had to think of our long-term plans.”

The District of Squamish’s Affordable Housing Framework has a goal of ensuring there are “sufficient housing options in Squamish to meet the full spectrum of needs found in the community.” It guides affordable and social housing projects within the district, but many young families don’t qualify. 

Centrepoint, for instance, is an affordable housing development in partnership between Sea to Sky Community Services and Squamish United Church that is slated to open next year. It will provide 32 units made up for one- and two-bedroom suites. 

But, although they can’t afford rent in Squamish, many families still earn too much money to qualify to live in developments of this sort. 

Nate Dolha is another Squamish resident who will soon call the Okanagan home. He is moving from Squamish to Kamloops on July 4. 

Dolha sold his home in Valleycliffe and bought a larger house in the Okanagan community with his wife and two children, aged six and eight. 

“Affordability was the biggest driver of us leaving Squamish. Taxes, garbage and sewer rates have gone up an astronomical amount in the eight years since we moved here,” she said.  

The cost of commuting – Dolha works in the city’s downtown and his wife has a job on the North Shore – was also taking a toll. The couple was spending $700 to $800 on gas a month plus the cost of wear and tear to their vehicles. 

“We like Squamish and its location, but we have no prospect of finding jobs here,” he said. “We chose Kamloops because we’ll be living in the same neighbourhood as my sister-in-law who has kids the same age – and we can afford it.” 

Nate Dohla, his wife and two children are moving to Kamloops, where real estate prices are lower, early next month. - Submitted

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