As the housing crisis collides with a post-pandemic hard-to-hire environment, a new trend is emerging—employers are providing housing as a recruitment tool.
Take Salt Spring Island’s hospital for example, which says the housing crisis is crippling their ability to provide care.
“The situation currently is pretty dire. We’re a few doctors short of having to divert people from the hospital,” said Roberta Martell, executive director, Lady Minto Hospital Foundation.
They’re at the edge of their capacity just servicing the 12,000 locals who live here year-round, not factoring in the thousands of tourists they see annually.
But it’s not a hiring problem—it’s a housing problem.
“In the last four months there have been at least 6 or 7 instances where highly qualified staff and sometimes couples have been offered positions that they’ve initially expressed interest in accepting, but then haven’t been able to find housing so they’ve had turned them down,” said Martell.
On Salt Spring Island there’s a water moratorium, meaning no new builds if you need to install water service. So, to provide the emergency care the residents need, the hospital got creative.
“We’re moving into housing,” said Martell.
The foundation spent $4 million to buy an apartment building to house employees.
The building, previously called the SeaBreeze, was previously owned by BC Housing and was being used as a shelter. BC Housing is now in the process of building supportive housing on Drake Road, which is supposed to be ready by the time the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation has completed its $1.6 million renovations.
“One of the things that we’re proudest of is, not one person has been displaced in our purchase of this property,” said Martell. “This move alone, in combination with BC Housing’s initiative, has addressed 15 per cent of the identified housing needs on the island.”
They’re not the only employer on Salt Spring Island securing housing for their workforce.
“Restaurants have bought houses for their staff, other businesses, and other people who aren’t able to compete, have frankly been closing,” said Martell.
It’s a problem historically faced by remote communities, common among resource-based industries like mining, forestry, or resort communities like ski hills.
But, as wages don’t keep up with the cost of living, the trend is now seeping into Greater Victoria.
“It’s something we’ve seen in resort communities like Tofino, Whistler, and others, but now we’re starting to see it in the Capital Regional District,” said Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. “We are starting to see more and more companies or groups of companies starting to talk about know they can collectively provide housing as a part of the benefits package in attracting workers to come to this region.”
And employment lawyers expect to see the trend of employers providing housing for their staff, or subsidizing the cost of their accommodations, to heat up.
“I think it could become very widespread, I mean you just have to think about the cost of housing in Vancouver or Toronto or other major cities across the country. It’s going to be something employers have to figure out,” said Brandon Hillis, partner and employment lawyer with the Roper Greyell law firm in Vancouver.
Hillis believes the trend may only be mitigated to some degree by the increase in remote work caused by the pandemic and acknowledges the relationship change from employer to landlord, will complicate things.
“If you’re providing housing for employees that’s going to open up a whole host of questions and concerns, do you become a landlord? What happens if the employment relationship doesn’t work out?” said Hillis.
Another employment lawyer says clarity is key.
“Whether your an employer or you’re an employee, the most important thing is really just making sure it’s clear what the expectations are and it’s clear what the deal is. Because often when we get involved it’s because someone wasn’t clear about something along the way,” said Jensen Leung, an employment lawyer with Samfiru Tumarkin.