Central Okanagan population predicted to grow by 80,000 over next 2 decades

By Doyle Potenteau Global News

The Central Okanagan is expected to grow by leaps and bounds during the next two decades, according to a recent webinar.

Hosted in late January by the Okanagan chapter of the Urban Development Institute (UDI), the webinar’s keynote speaker discussed Kelowna’s future, predicting it will grow another 80,000 residents by 2040.

The Jan. 25 online meeting focused on real-estate development in the region, but also touched on employment and future growth.

“In many ways, to say that Kelowna and the Central Okanagan have weathered the COVID-19 storm well would be an understatement,” Andrew Ramlo, vice president of consulting for Rennie Group, said in a UDI press release.

Ramlo is also the past president of the Planning Institute of B.C.

Regarding employment, Ramlo said the region lost 8,300 jobs between March and June, the height of the pandemic. But since then, the region has gained 11,000 jobs.

“This has pushed the region’s unemployment rate back towards historical lows,” said Ramlo, noting Kelowna faired well in weathering the job-loss storm.

“Relative to a national unemployment rate in the range of 8.7 per cent, the Kelowna CMA now sits at just 4.5 per cent.”

Ramlo also said “from a people perspective, the region has also seen some of the fastest population growth rates in the country. Posting a 1.9 per cent growth rate in 2019-20, the region grew by 4,000 residents — eclipsing growth seen in many other major metro regions across the country.”

But with growth rate comes higher housing prices.

Ramlo says Central Okanagan residential sales in 2020 were up 25 per cent over last year, and more than 20 per cent above the past decade’s average.

“Inventory, however, has moved in the opposite direction,” said Ramlo.

“Relative to 2019, total inventory was down by four per cent. To the degree that sales can be equated to demand, and inventory to available supply, (economics) 101 would tell us that this situation would lead to rising prices — and it certainly has.

“Through 2020, average housing prices in the region increased by 17 per cent.”

And don’t expect house prices to go down anytime soon.

Ramlo says the region will undergo continued population growth, stating a wide range of people will find Kelowna to be a desirable place, from youth to immigrants to retirees moving westward to warmer climates.

“Our outlook is for the Central Okanagan region to grow by more than 80,000 residents over the coming two decades,” said Ramlo.

“This compares to the roughly 70,000 that were added over the past two decades.”

While it may seem like nothing but colourful skies ahead for Kelowna, Ramlo notes there will be challenges for the region.

“From a housing perspective, Kelowna and the Central Okanagan suffer from a housing availability and affordability crisis — issues that will only grow if the supply of new housing does not keep up with expected demand,” said Ramlo.

“Consider, for example, that both building permits and housing starts for the region are currently well below historical averages. This does not bode well for housing supply in the near and medium terms.”

He also said “from an equity and equality perspective, the city and its broader region also suffer from challenges to diversity and inclusion, widening income gaps and a growing homeless population, all which require careful attention and dedication to address.”

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