While the campaign to recruit health care professionals to Quesnel has been so successful that other municipalities are calling the City to find out how they did it, it is coming up against a challenge once professionals decide they want to work in Quesnel — a lack of rental housing options.
The City of Quesnel’s Healthcare Recruitment program has been successful in attracting doctors and other health care professionals to the community, and the City’s Healthcare Recruitment Co-ordinator has been working closely with Northern Health to help provide a “soft landing” for health care professionals in Quesnel, finding housing, making social connections, sourcing local services arranging rental cars and supporting spouses in their search for employment, according to economic development officer Amy Reid, who brought a report to council about a possible short-term solution to this issue during the April 16 council meeting.
“Our program has been very successful, and we’ve won awards,” Reid told council. “We’re one of very few communities in the province that have doctors accepting new patients.”
Finding appropriate housing is the greatest challenge for this program — and for any new professional arriving in Quesnel, explained Reid, noting they sometimes have to find the right housing on fairly short notice.
Most of the health care professionals arriving in Quesnel are committed to a short-term two- or three-year contract through programs requiring a return of service, explained Reid. These professionals may stay longer — and some have — but when they arrive, they are usually looking for a rental unit. There are also students coming in on a one-month basis, and the city will be getting medical residents who are coming in on a three-month term.
“Those will be really challenging to find housing for because it is such a short term,” said Reid.
The previous and current Healthcare Recruitment Co-ordinator did a lot of work finding rental spaces, but most of those places are full right now, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find appropriate housing for incoming health care professionals, she noted.
An opportunity has come up for the City to rent an apartment in the new Dakelh building, with the intention to sublet the apartment to health care professionals as they arrive in the community.
The available apartment is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in the new Dakelh building on McLean Street, which has never been lived in. The building is walking-distance to the hospital and downtown amenities, which is convenient, as many of the professionals and students arrive without vehicles.
The apartment could be rented as a full apartment or as a private room and bathroom with a shared living space and kitchen.
According to Reid’s report to council, annual costs are between $16,000 and $17,000 for the available two-bedroom unit, which includes rent, parking, laundry, biweekly cleaning service, hydro, an estimated management fee, insurance costs and ongoing repair and maintenance.
The initial costs to furnish the apartment are approximately $7,000 to $10,000, and there is a $400 recoverable damage deposit.
Reid says subletting the apartment at $1,400 a month would roughly break even if rented for 12 months. This is a higher rental cost than average two-bedroom apartments in Quesnel, but it would be fully furnished, and it would be a short-term lease agreement, she noted.
Subletting each room in the apartment individually would roughly break even at $800 per room per month if 21 room-months are full, explained Reid. At $1,000 per room per month, the apartment would roughly break even at 17 room-months.
Currently, based on known incoming health care professionals, there is the potential for 10 room-months to be full, although it cannot be guaranteed that all incoming professionals will want to stay in the apartment, noted Reid.
After much discussion, council voted to try this for one year and then review the strategy.
“This is not a subsidy,” emphasized Mayor Bob Simpson. “This is a facilitation. So what we’re trying to do is facilitate ease of access to housing.
“This is a proposal to experiment. It is not a proposal to forever engage in this. We’ve talked about this long enough, we’ve been around and around on this long enough, and we now have an opportunity to experiment with what it might look like and how we would manage it. It’s not really a budget issue because it should be cost-recovery, and if we don’t try to work with this and try to figure it out and get it right, we could be in some trouble.”
According to Simpson, the funding for this would be covered by the council initiatives budget.
Coun. Martin Runge supported the idea but told fellow councillors he doesn’t think this is the way for the City to go forward with it. He did express some relief when he heard there is potential for the apartment to be rented out right away, though.
“Fundamentally, I have a big issue with renting one apartment from a company that rents out apartments to people in town,” said Runge. “Why are we not offering something to the Dakelh, maybe setting them up so they can put in short-term rentals in places like this and they’re taking it as a private operator, and they’re taking the risk to offer quality rental to doctors, and we facilitate the doctors or nurses to get in there; we set up some sort of a database or something, but we’re not in the rental business, at least not with one unit. If we really want to get into it, let’s build a whole building.”
Coun. Ron Paull acknowledged there is some risk, but he said he’s wiling to give it a try for a year or two, and Coun. Tony Goulet had similar comments.
“I see the concerns from Coun. Runge, but I’m willing to look at it on a trial basis and see if it works for a year,” said Goulet.
City manager Byron Johnson noted this would be one way to continue the success of the City’s recruitment program.
“How much longer will we have a competitive advantage unless we can make it more attractive to doctors and nurses?” he asked. “I agree with Coun. Runge one apartment is not the answer, but this gives us a chance to figure it out. You have to start somewhere, and I think a cautious thing is starting with one two-bedroom apartment.”
Reid told council there is someone coming to Quesnel who could start renting in the apartment May 1.