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Dawson Creek has highest apartment vacancy rates in B.C.

Fort St. John and DC have second and third-highest rents in B.C.
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Vacancy rates jumped 9.3 per cent this year in Dawson Creek as oil prices tumbled.

If you're looking for an apartment in Dawson Creek, there's plenty to choose from. 

Nearly 15 per cent of apartments here are sitting vacant—the highest rate in B.C.—according to new data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).  

Dawson Creek has an apartment vacancy rate of 14.6 per cent, up from 5.3 per cent from this time last year. Fort St. John, meanwhile, came in second in B.C. with a vacancy rate of 12.1. Dawson Creek was a full ten points ahead of third-place Prince George, where 4.5 per cent of rooms were vacant. 

Across B.C., the average rate of vacancy was 1.2 per cent.  

Rents in the Peace were also among the highest in the province. Fort St. John had the highest outside Metro Vancouver, at an average $1,031 a month. 

The Mile 0 City came third overall, with the average Dawson Creek renter paying $975 a month. In Vancouver, the average renter puts $1,144 a month towards housing.  

All but ten of the 27 B.C. urban centres in the CMHC survey had lower vacancy rates compared to the same time last year. Most of them were in Northern B.C. 

The CMHC releases data on apartment stocks, availability, vacancy and average rents twice a year. The numbers were calculated in October and released Wednesday. 

Tanking commodity prices contributed to growing vacancy rates in the north, the CMHC noted. 

"In these areas, the impacts of low oil prices and related energy sector slowdowns may have had a greater impact on employment," the report reads. "As well, additional rental supply in several of these centres could also account for the rise in apartment vacancy rates." 

The rates depend on the type of apartment. Three bedroom apartments in Dawson Creek were vacant at the highest rate—20.4 per cent—while bachelors had the lowest at 11.2 per cent. Just over 24 per cent of rental townhouses were available.  

In Fort St. John, vacancy rates leapt from 2.5 per cent to 14.6 for one bedroom apartments, the largest increase for any bedroom type in the city. 

The city has 1,660 apartments total, the CMHC found, while Dawson Creek has a rental stock of 998 apartments. 

The lowest vacancy rates in B.C. were in Squamish, where just one-third of one per cent of apartments were vacant. 

Vacancy rates likely higher, expert says 

Vacancy rates may actually be higher than they appear in the CMHC data, said Li-Car property management group partner Lita Powell. 

Powell, a former CMHC employee, said the data doesn't take into account some small rental units. As well, rooms only count as vacant if they're move-in ready. 

"(The CMHC asks) 'is this unit ready to move into today? If we respond 'no it needs to be cleaned' or 'no it needs steam cleaning,' then they don't count it," she said. 

In Fort St. John, Powell estimated there are "approximately 600 rental units that were not included in that survey." 

If those 600 or so rental units were included, the vacancy rate would be much higher, she said. 

On the other hand, she believes rents are likely lower than the CMHC figures. 

Her company has lowered rents in response to declining employment in the oilpatch. 

"In the fracking industry, the drilling, the pipeline, those jobs have really shrank," she said. "So the effect it has on the rentals is there are no longer the $38 to $45 an hour jobs out there that are going to pay the high rents." 

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