Smaller family sizes means new planning needs for Kitimat housing

Kitimat's planning department outlines some of the projected changes for Kitimat over the next decade.

The make-up of Kitimat’s demographics may continue to change over the next 10 years, according to forecasts from the District of Kitimat’s planning department.

As part of an October 6 public hearing on the Riverbrook Estates proposal for a number of townhouses, standalone homes and apartment units, the Director of Planning and Development Gwen Sewell gave her department’s outlook which shows a need for new housing in Kitimat through to 2021.

The department sees the potential for four scenarios of population growth from this moment onward, depending on which projects are built, the highest scenario being the case that the Kitimat Clean oil refinery is constructed. Sewell notes that there’s no confirmation that project may be built but if that and other proposed projects are built Kitimat could be looking at an industrial work force of about 4,600 people at the high end.

Even so there is a moderate projection of a need for 2,900 industrial jobs.

“Of the four development scenarios we’re looking at there’s a very large difference in the number of jobs overall,” she said. “So in 1981 we had approximately 3,900 industrial jobs, but we had very, very few retirees.”

That ratio has been flipping since the 80s.

“[Projections are] 800 fewer jobs, but again we have a very different population make-up now with a larger number of retiree population.”

That shrinking work base combined with more retirees means the average household in Kitimat has fewer people.

“In 1981, which was essentially the peak of our last big boom, there was 3.3 people per every household, and now we’re down to 2.3,” said Sewell. “That’s quite a significant difference.”

What those figures speak to is a concern from community residents that Kitimat housed a higher population in the 80s with the same number of households that Kitimat has now with fewer people.

But from the District of Kitimat’s staff’s perspective, household make-up used to be much different too.

If there’s just over 2.3 people, statistically speaking of course, that’s one full person less per household than in the 80s.

Construction has been slow too. Sewell says that over the last 20 years the number of new dwelling units constructed each year has only been 4.5

“We’ve had very, very little growth in the number of potential households.”

That number jumped last year with 70 units constructed. Half of those, said Sewell, replaced apartment units which were lost in a fire years ago.

Other community factors such as the rapid increase of market prices for houses shows a high demand in Kitimat.

Even if those numbers have trailed off in the past few months, “it’s an overwhelming trend of increase in values and also decrease in vacancy,” which she says are all indicators that Kitimat does not have enough living units to satisfy demand.

As of October 14 there were 93 homes listed on MLS.ca.

Kitimat has room for potentially up to 10,870 living units at the moment, and up to 13,160 with a full build-out of all residential spaces within Kitimat, without leaving the existing town foot print, she said.