FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s 2017 Rental Market Report, vacancy rates in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek started to trend downwards once again this year, though local experts say that those numbers don’t tell the full story.
According to the CMHC’s report, which was compiled based on data gathered in October, the average vacancy rate in Fort St. John for all types of rental units was 18.5 percent this year, or 10.3 percent lower than in 2016. Bachelor suites and units with three or more bedrooms had the lowest vacancy rates of 12.8 and 14.1 percent respectively. The vacancy rate of one-bedroom apartments and townhouses sat at 18.7 percent, while 19.4 percent of two-bedroom units were vacant.
Though vacancy rates fell compared to a year ago, average monthly rents in Fort St. John also fell compared to last year. Including townhouses, the average monthly cost of renting a one-bedroom unit in the Energetic City was $753, compared to $809 one year ago. Two-bedroom units saw an average drop in monthly rents of $38, to $1,008, while the drop in price for a three- or more bedroom unit fell slightly from $1,129 to $1,089/month. The total average monthly rent in Fort St. John was $935, a drop from 2016’s average of $975.
In Dawson Creek, vacancy rates were slightly lower and showed similar trends. The average vacancy rate in the Mile ‘0’ City was 11.8 percent, a drop from 19.6 percent in 2016. Interestingly, the average monthly rent in Dawson Creek actually increased from $961 to $989/month, which means that average monthly rent is actually higher than in Fort St. John.
Though the rebound in rental rates is a sign of an improving local economy, the numbers don’t tell the full picture, according to a local analyst. Managing Broker Lita Powell with Li-car Management said that the rates of vacancies are skewed by Fort St. John’s population peak not being represented in the last Census in 2016.
“The Census was a five-year census, and it didn’t capture the increase in our population that took place in 2013 and 2014. From December of 2014 to December of 2016, I estimate that we lost 6,000 people. But we also added about 2,000 living units in the four years preceding 2016. So you had a rapidly built up rental stock in order to accommodate the workers, but the workers are leaving because there’s no employment.”
Powell also explained that the CMHC doesn’t include statistics from rental units that are in complexes that are smaller than eight units, from rooms for rent, or from owned strata condominiums that have been rented out. She said that because of this, the actual vacancy rate in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek is likely higher.
B.C. as a whole saw the average cost of monthly rent jump by 5.8 percent, to an average of $1,164. The provincial vacancy rate currently sits at 1.3 percent, which is unchanged from last year. Metro Vancouver is the home of the most expensive average rents in the province at $1,308/month, while Quesnel’s average of $654/month was the lowest in B.C.