Susan Skidmore. (Courtesy Susan Skidmore)

Greater Victoria is a tough market, even for former homeowners

Seniors often squeezed out of the housing market due to limited income

Susan Skidmore is moving to Oak Bay from the Kootenays in time for Canada Day.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t found accommodations that are within her budget. Like many British Columbians, Skidmore can’t afford to buy in the current market, and renting at current prices is unsustainable. As a retiree, Skidmore has limited options to increase her income to match growing prices.

But unlike many British Colombians, Skidmore is not fazed by the market, nor is she frustrated about her situation.

Skidmore has been house sitting in Oak Bay since January. She’ll return the Kootenays in mid-February before moving here full time in the summer. Sensitive to cold weather, she wanted to see how a Victoria winter felt as she usually travels south to warmer climates.

“What I’m doing is putting more feelers out and trying to make a network of people that I meet, people that I talk to, people who know people, people who I talk to on the bus,” Skidmore said.

“I’m creating that while I’m here, while I have some time, and then I’ll continue expanding that between now and July.”

Skidmore has owned more than a half a dozen homes and has been a landlord herself. She sold her most recent property in 2017, which she described as a Canadian landing pad.

“Some people have sat in the same home for 40 years and it’s appreciated and they’re going ‘wow, the mortgage is paid off, my house is worth $1.5 million, I bought it for $43,000, I’m fine,’” Skidmore said. “Then, [there are] others who’ve moved around a bit or travelled or sold.”

The new mortgage rules and a fixed income have shrunk Skidmore’s potential ability to buy again for the time being.

“There are many people like me — particularly in my age group — that are caught in that middle space, that sort of no where land, of now not being able to re-buy into the housing market. But not being able to afford high rents either,” Skidmore said. “I wouldn’t call it unfortunate. It’s just the way it is.”

Kaye Melliship of the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS) said affordable seniors housing is needed in Victoria, and the way demographics are trending it’s a need that will only increase with time.

“We currently have about 550 apartments for seniors, so we know because of the demand for them and the take-up our housing units that there is a need,” Melliship said. “There’s a gap between fixed incomes and modest pensions, and the cost of living in the market.”

Melliship noted the society will have close to 150 units available for seniors being built over the next two to three years, although not all of the units will be specifically for seniors. Aside from permits, one of the biggest barriers to building affordable housing is cost, she noted. In order to keep units affordable, the GVHS and similar organizations must pay more upfront for developments. That funding typically comes from governments rather than residents.

READ MORE: New 84-unit seniors housing in Saanich constructed to Built Green standards

Single seniors are often hit the hardest in the tight market.

“Most of the seniors that we house are single people. And it’s just the one income problem,” Melliship said. “It’s the same really for families too, it’s hard to provide housing to families on one income.”

For her part, Skidmore remains optimistic — something she insisted be made clear.

“I’m finding it’s very interesting that I’m keeping that approach. I think I told myself initially, having lived in and near Nelson, I know what it’s like to have a very difficult rental market,” Skidmore said. “I told myself, ‘you want to go to Victoria? You can’t let yourself start telling yourself negative things about moving to Victoria. You have to keep saying this is going to work, this is going to work, I’m going to find something.’”

Skidmore is open to living elsewhere in the region, other than Oak Bay, even moving to one the Gulf Islands. Ideally, she’d like to have a place above ground with a garden but understands she might not get her dream home. But, she knows she’ll find something.



jesse.laufer@oakbaynews.com

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