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Nowhere to rent in the Comox Valley

Workers remove siding in preparation for 16 new apartments in downtown Courtenay. The city and the surrounding region boasted the second-lowest primary rental market vacancy on Vancouver Island in 2015. - Spencer Anderson / Echo Staff
Workers remove siding in preparation for 16 new apartments in downtown Courtenay. The city and the surrounding region boasted the second-lowest primary rental market vacancy on Vancouver Island in 2015.
— image credit: Spencer Anderson / Echo Staff

By Spencer Anderson

Echo Staff

The Comox Valley had the lowest rental vacancy rate on Vancouver Island in 2015, according to data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

The Valley's vacancy rate sat at just 0.6 per cent overall, lower than Victoria, which sat at 0.7 per cent.

Only Squamish, which had a vacancy rate of 0.3 per cent, and the City of Nelson, 0.4 per cent, had lower vacancy rates in the rest of the province.

The Valley's vacancy rate is almost six times lower than Campbell River, more than four times lower than in Nanaimo and almost seven times lower than Duncan.

The CMHC data applies to purpose-built rental units like apartments and row housing. It was recently highlighted in the release of the Comox Valley Vital Signs report last week.

The data also reveals that the vacancy rate in the Comox Valley shrank by almost three quarters between 2014 and 2015, decreasing to 0.5 from 1.8 per cent.

A closer look at the overall vacancy rate reveals more bleak news for the Valley's renters. One-bedroom units had a vacancy rate of 0.7 per cent, while two-bedroom units sat at 0.3 per cent. Want a three-bedroom unit? Forget it; the vacancy rate was zero.

Translation: of the approximately 2,000 rental units in the Comox Valley, only 10 were vacant in the fall of 2015.

The catch is that the data is a year old, and new data for 2016 – expected to be released in December – could highlight new trends.

But shrinking vacancy rates are a trend across the entire province, including the Island, said CMHC analyst Braden Batch.

"One of the things we noticed in 2016 is there's been an increase in demand across the market, not just (in) rental," said Batch.

"Each town has its own story," Batch said. However, he added, the general issue is one of supply – or lack thereof – in determining vacancy rates.

For Island cities like Courtenay and other parts of the Valley, they may be playing catch-up to a heating housing market.

Developer Len Mathot said he is preparing to submit a building permit application to the city to build 16 downtown apartment units, each approximately 310 square feet, on the 400-block of Fifth Street. The second-story space where the apartments will be built was previously occupied by McConochie's Furniture & Appliances.

Mathot also said he's preparing to submit a building permit application to build a 23-unit apartment complex on what is now a parking lot near the Old House Hotel and Spa.

Workers were already ripping off the aged exterior of the Fifth Street building in preparation for the new units.

"I don't believe there's going to be any problem renting them out at all," said Mathot.

There is a housing boom on, "but it's only been the last six months to a year," he said.

The CMHC does not keep track of the 'secondary' rental market in Courtenay, which refers to houses or condominiums that are rented out by the owners. Batch said in an email that although that data is collected in some markets, that survey is "very expensive" to conduct.

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