On any given night on Vancouver Island, a large percentage of bedrooms have no one sleeping in them.
At least one group thinks that statistic might contain the seed for a new way of addressing the homelessness problem.
According to Statistics Canada data compiled by Jens Von Bergmann, about 40.7 per cent of bedrooms in Campbell River were unoccupied. That figure is based on data from the 2016 Canadian Census (2021 data is not yet available) and is likely an under-count, according to CensusMapper.
“We roughly know the number of bedrooms that are out there…And so that tells us a story about roughly how many bedrooms are in houses, at least in occupied houses,” said Von Bergmann. He then calculates how many of them are empty based on the number of people living in homes. “We just add up all the bedrooms we have and all the people and couples and just look at the difference. And that gives us an estimate of the number of empty bedrooms.”
With Campbell River also facing an affordable housing crisis — a 2021 vacancy rate of 1.5 per cent and rental units going for an average $2,000 per month — the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness has an idea of how to alleviate the pressure.
That idea is home-sharing.
“The situation in Campbell River is challenging right now. Thinking of creative, innovative ways to provide affordable housing solutions to more people is especially attractive right now,” said Stefanie Hendrickson, coordinator for the coalition. “Housing is really challenging here. It’s expensive, there’s not a lot of it, so this has the potential of opening up more spaces for people in the community.”
Home sharing platforms are companies that essentially act as mediators between a host and a renter. They handle background checks, matching renters and hosts, payments, agreements and even conflict resolution.
“You share amenities, you’re sharing a kitchen you may share a bathroom depending on how many bathrooms are in the house, you’re sharing a yard and often sharing some of the household responsibilities if that works for you,” Hendrickson said. “(The platforms are) set up very well so that if people are looking for a little bit of an extra boost to their agreement things can be added into it. That’s things like maybe taking care of a pet or helping with basic household chores or meal preparations.”
The coalition has been looking at a platform called Happipad. All that’s left is to find an organization to recruit new hosts and get the project up and running.
While these services are open to anyone, they are especially useful to people who are interested in a multi-generational set up. For example, a senior who wants to keep living at home may be matched with a student who is looking for affordable housing while they attend school. The household chores are split up between the two parties in a way that works for them. The host can afford to keep their home and is safe because they are not alone and the renter gets to save a few dollars and has peace of mind.
Not everyone will want to be a part of a home share, but it will appeal to a certain group, Von Bergmann said.
“One thing that’s sort of easy to forget is that it’s actually nice to have empty bedrooms,” he said. “I mean, there might be some people that want extra money… I’m curious to see how this will play out.”
Besides seniors, the idea could also be for people “who are just interested in renting out an extra room that they have available,” Hendrickson said. “It has a lot of potential, we just haven’t found an organization yet…to explore this further.”
Interested organizations can email the coalition at firstname.lastname@example.org.