Spotlight on Lauren Hjalmarson
Lauren Hjalmarson is one of those people who make things happen. Like many young professionals in Kelowna, Lauren grew up in this beautiful city before leaving to pursue her studies. It didn’t take long before the call of BC had her returning home to finish studying and start building her career. And it was then that Lauren discovered just how challenging it can be to find a place to live in Kelowna. “It was nearly impossible to find a place to rent.” Not only did she notice the lack of selection in rental housing, it was quickly apparent that the cost of renting had gone up. Way up!
Get to know Lauren and you will find that she represents a growing group of local young professionals determined to get involved and make an impact in Kelowna. She completed her degree in Interdisciplinary Performance at UBC Okanagan, where she honed her skills in writing, performing, and visual arts. She’s the author/illustrator of Rory and the Coyote, a reconciliation story inspired by Nsyilxcen First Nations tales and set in Mission Creek Park. Lauren is the Community Manager at the Kelowna Innovation Centre and works as a professional actor on the side. She was a founding staff member at KelownaNow and has been building a career as a social media personality and community advocate ever since. In short, she’s a mover and a shaker. Yet, none of this would be possible without having a place to call home.
Lauren has been a renter for nearly a decade. By and large, she has had excellent experiences and has been fortunate to secure long-term housing with great landlords. In recent years, however, she has noticed that finding housing in Kelowna has become increasingly cut-throat. For instance, after her landlords took over the basement suite where she’d been living in a year ago, finding her new home required an extraordinary amount of resourcefulness, persistence, and luck.
“I spent hours looking but there was very little on the market for long-term renters. When I looked at short term rentals, on the other hand, I could see that there were hundreds of listings.” Lauren attributes some of the struggle to the growing tourist economy surrounding AirBnB.
“It’s frustrating that it’s so easy for visitors to find homes but so hard for the people that actually live here.” And short term rentals are just not ideal for a local professional. “I think there has been an effect because of AirBnB where landlords expect to make more money from their rentals. This has driven up rents for everyone.” It’s a challenge that faces many young adults, whether young professional or a post-secondary student trying to find a space to live in Kelowna.
Undaunted, Lauren used her professional network in Kelowna to generate leads. Having previously worked as a reporter for KelownaNow, Lauren contacted a reporter who currently worked there and suggested a story to highlight the rental shortage in Kelowna and the dire situation renters face. After that article was published, Lauren left comments linked to her Facebook profile, in hopes that a landlord would reach out to her. Her plan worked. She was able to secure an illegal suite in West Kelowna after connecting with the landlord through Facebook.
“I know I live in an illegal suite, but it’s all I could find when I moved last. I plan to move again soon and hope to secure something more permanent in Kelowna this time. We’ll see how that goes.” Overall, the moving process was more work than it should have been. Lauren’s frustrations with renting ultimately led her to connect with Happipad after hearing about a community event they were hosting to discuss short-term renting. Lauren attended the event and voiced her frustrations surrounding the affect AirBnB has had on the rental market.
“It was awesome to have a public forum where we could speak with an elected official on the challenges that renters face.” It was an opinion that was echoed throughout the forum. “There’s so much I love about Kelowna, but it’s getting harder and harder to live here.” That’s why Lauren supports ideas like shared living and creating better rental experiences.
Lauren’s story reminds us why it’s important for cities to have a healthy rental community. Affordable rent allows young professionals like her to grow, develop their skills, build their connections, and launch new businesses. In recent years, Kelowna has benefited from a migration of young people from unaffordable cities like Vancouver. If current trends continue, Kelowna may soon follow in Vancouver’s footsteps and see young talent move away again.
“We have a thriving creative community and there’s still that tight-knit feel. It would be a shame to lose that due to a lack of affordability.”
To find out more about how Happipad is helping to provide affordable renting to BC residents looking for a place to stay, check out this link.