Article appeared in the Mar. 27, 2013 issue of the Interlake Enterprise, by Teresa Carey…
About 50 people attended the 2nd annual Interlake Housing Forum, held this year at Fraserwood Hall on Mar. 14. The main focus of discussions was on meeting future demands for housing in rural Manitoba.
Hosted jointly by Community Futures West and Community Futures East Interlake (CFWI and CFEI), representatives from numerous Interlake municipalities heard presentations by 10 speakers throughout the day, beginning with Statistician, Wilf Falk of the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics (MBS).
One might have expected Falk’s presentation to be dry, but it proved to be one of the most interesting of the day. Falk, a highly engaging speaker, highlighted trends in demographics, labour market and the economy, breaking it down by province and by region.
The outlook for rural Manitoba’s future, according to Falk, can be summed up in a word, “Change”.
Overall, Manitoba saw a 5.2 per cent population growth between 2007 and 2011, the best in 50 years, but that growth was not constant across the province, nor was it evenly distributed across the Interlake.
The South-East Interlake grew most. Stonewall grew by 4 per cent, Teulon, by 3.4 per cent, and Arborg, among the highest in the province, grew by 13 per cent.
Much of the population growth was generated by robust immigration. Between 2007 and 2011, 15,000 immigrants moved into the province. However, that trend has now started to level off, Falk said.
Falk’s statistical model predicts that by 2020 Manitoba’s population will grow less than 11 per cent, and the Interlake’s growth will be about 7.4 per cent. Most of the population increase will be seen in the South-East part of the province, particularly south of the Trans Canada Highway.
Manitoba’s population is also younger than the median age in Canada. Manitoba’s median age is 38.3 years old, the third youngest in the country after Alberta and Saskatchewan. Much of the younger age group is found in Manitoba’s Aboriginal populations.
The Interlake is the second oldest region of the province. Over the next eight years it is expected to get younger, but only slightly. There will be a population increase here, but the age structure is what tells the real story, Falk explained.
By the year 2020, the 16 per cent of the Interlake’s population will be under 14 (down from 17 per cent). There will be fewer people under age 21, and more between the ages of 22 and 27. The 55-plus group will be on the rise in the Interlake over the eight year time frame, with a corresponding decrease in the 38 to 55 age group.
These factors, taken together, have profound implications on both the job market and for the housing situation in Manitoba.
ECONOMIC OUTLOOK AND JOBS
This 55-plus age group will have a higher disposable income than in the past. Couples, most of them drawing dual pensions, will be hungry to spend rather than save.
This is good news for the retail sector. Falk expects retail sales to jump to 40 per cent by 2020, while
Manitoba’s economy, overall, is expected to grow by two per cent.
Falk said that, with the larger numbers of people retiring, human resources issues will move to the forefront as organizations move into the future.
The employment rate in the province is expected to rise by 10 per cent. There will be 186,200 new job openings, 35 per cent of these due to a growing economy, and the remainder due to a large number of people retiring.
This will not be without its challenges, however.
Falk warned that the demand for labour will soon outstrip the labour supply. He predicts a labour shortage, especially between 2015 and 2017. Sectors to feel the greatest impact are management, trades, manufacturing, utilities, sales and services, and health.
While the availability of jobs will be greater, the highest areas of demand will require the highest level of education and expertise. The highest need will be for college educated workers and apprenticed trade workers, followed by university educated workers. Falk said only 10 per cent of the upcoming new job openings will be entry level positions.
With males living longer, Falk expects that couples may want to stay in their homes longer, suggesting that the need for personal care homes and condominiums will be less pressing in most of Manitoba.
(However, it is important to note that in a recent housing needs survey, the majority of Interlake municipalities listed a high need for personal care homes and affordable rental properties, for both workers and seniors.)
Along with the change in workforce demographics there certainly will be impacts on Interlake communities. As it is, rural communities have been experiencing difficulties in providing the affordable housing needed to draw in the required workforce, which in turn would facilitate growth. Building suitable housing will continue to be a priority in the region in order to give potential workers a place in which to live and settle down.
“Housing is a serious issue if you want to stay in your community, if you want to attract workers for your community,” said Henry Sikora, General Manager of CFWI during his presentation.
The problem continues to be the gap between what it costs to build versus what people are willing to pay, especially in rural Manitoba. Sikora said people expect to pay between $300 and $590 for rent, when the cost to build runs between $150,000 and $250,000.
“That’s what they expect to pay, but it’s not realistic,” he said.
In his presentation, Terry Wotton of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), expressed the same sentiment. He coached municipal representatives on how to approach project development, and working out the details for grant applications. He encouraged them to take advantage of grant money that is available through CMHC, up to $10,000 in seed money.
Interlake Real Estate realtor, Chris Neufeld, who spoke about the current housing market in the Interlake, emphasized that now is the time to seek out these grants and build projects while interest rates remain low.
“A two per cent interest increase could happen at any time…financing is the biggest cost of a house,” he said.
Another presenter, Myra Cruz Arado , a policy planner for the Department of Local Government, spoke about changes to the municipal planning guidelines for secondary suites in order to address Manitoba’s housing shortage. She explained that the province has adopted a more permissive regulatory framework which will now allow ground level or above level garage suites or other options, while moving toward an incentive-based enforcement of by-laws.
Other options discussed during the forum included considering pre-manufactured modular homes (not to be confused with mobile homes), which come in a range of designs and sizes, and offer advantages from an environmental point of view.