By Steve Hubrecht
Jane Lowe is every inch the picture of equanimity. Kindness radiates from her gentle smile. She’s quiet, but not reserved, and it’s quick and easy to fall into conversation with her. Many residents of the Invermere’s Wilder subdivision know her well, if not by name, then certainly by sight: she is often seen rolling her kayak down to Kinsmen Beach on a wheeled trolley, her long-haired dachshund Moxie bounding along beside her. When they get to the water’s edge, the wheels and Moxie go into the boat. Jane does too, and they paddle off — their favourite route is to head down the west side of Lake Windermere past the eagles’ nest.
When enjoying the great outdoors, Jane indulges her artistic flair, wool painting and creating mixed media gift cards.
Moxie and Jane, the lake and the mountains and art. It’s been like that for more than a decade. Jane, originally from England, retired to Invermere 13 and half years ago, after a long career in Ontario in medical administration, and as a director for the Canadian Cancer Society. With her silver-blonde hair, her obvious fitness, and her chipper demeanour, she comes across as at least a decade and half younger than her 80 years. Jane doesn’t have a car and doesn’t want one: she can walk everywhere she needs to (indeed, she likes it that way) —including merrily wheeling her kayak back and forth between her home and the beach. For those unfamiliar with the lay of the neighbourhood, that includes the substantial uphill along 17th Street.
Jane felt a strong pull to Invermere after her son James, who lives in Calgary, drove down to the Columbia Valley when she was thinking of moving here. He mounted a GoPro camera to the top of his car, and drove all around the community to her give her a virtual glimpse of the vibrant main street, the parks, the beach, and the different parts of town. She was smitten, and took a rental, sight unseen. When she arrived in the valley in person, she couldn’t believe what she saw, this beautiful place was where she had relocated. ‘Smitten’ became ‘loved’. More than 13 years later, she still loves Invermere. It’s home to her.
In short, Jane — an active, outdoorsy, artsy retiree, well integrated into the social fabric of her neighbourhood — is exactly the sort of person Invermere tries to target with its resident attraction and retention strategy. There’s just one big problem: Invermere — or, more accurately, its long term rental crunch and ongoing affordable housing crisis — has lately been doing its best to push Jane (and many others like her) out of town.
For the past few months Jane has been caught in the jaws of the rental crunch. The landlord of the basement rental suite she has been living in for the past four years wants to move back to Invermere. So Jane began looking for a new place to stay. She been searched and searched — and searched — but came up empty. The landlord kindly extended Jane’s time in the suite, but even with a later deadline, the options remained squarely at zero.
Increasingly desperate, Jane enlisted her son James. He came from Calgary. The pair printed fliers and spent days walking up and down the streets of Invermere throughout February, literally going door to door looking for any possible leads on a place to rent.
“It’s quite iffy,” Lowe told the Pioneer last week. “For me, it’s a big problem. I cannot find anywhere that will even give me a shot.”
When Jane first arrived in Invermere, getting a rental was easy. She stayed in her first rental home for eight years. But four years and half years ago she needed to move, and learned that the long term rental market had radically changed.
“It was a whole different ball game. There was very, very little. I tried and tried, but nothing. The only reason I was able to get (her current suite) was by chance. The owner’s son was going away to college in Lethbridge and I happened to find out just by chance, through friends,” said Jane.
Flash forward to 2023 and things are even worse.
Jane admits she’s surprised: she’s a senior living on a pension, which means a limited budget, and her age means that taking on a mortgage to buy a home makes no financial sense. But she’s good with money, has planned prudently, and there are many people in the valley whose financial situation is considerably worse than hers. If people like her can’t find a place to stay, how can those in tougher circumstances?
“There’s just such a severe (long term rental) shortage right now,” said Jane. “You see all these empty houses and nothing happening in them, except during summer, and then I’ve heard about so many other people who are, just like me, wanting to live here long term, but just can’t find a place. It’s strange… I’m not really quite sure what I’m going to do. Some days I’m calm about it, and other days I’m actually quite emotional about it. I try to keep up hope, but the reality seems quite negative.”
Jane conceded there was a very real possibility she may be forced to leave the Columbia Valley.
“This is my community. I’ve made it my home. I just can’t imagine starting over again somewhere else…” she said, her voice trailing off.
James echoed his mom’s comments, outlining “I’ve been shocked at just how difficult it is. You hear the rental market is tough, but I think it’s extraordinary that it comes down to actually having to go door to door.”
He explained that he doesn’t have any hard statistics, but that in the process of going house to house “a lot of people seemed, well, not overly impressed by how many empty homes or how many AirBnBs (short term rentals) there are around. We would talk to somebody at one house, and they would be really friendly, even though they didn’t know of any rental suites. But then they would say ‘well, don’t bother going to the house next door, or the one across the street, or that one over there, or the one four doors down. They’re all short term rentals.’ Some people said they felt like their neighbourhood had been ‘taken over’ by AirBnB.”
Jane has a lot of friends in Invermere, and many of them have also been actively looking for a place for her, to no avail, added James. “It’s heartbreaking to my mom that she may have to leave…We’ve heard about more than a few people that that has happened to. A Facebook post (about a rental) will go up, and within minutes there are 27 responses. And even though you’re on it almost right away, you’re 28th in line,” he said. “The town does have an accommodation problem. I understand the income benefits of renting out your place on Air BnB, especially if you are on a pension or are a young family starting out, and you really need the income to make ends meet. But now I understand firsthand the other side of the issue…It’s overwhelming. It’s not just a few AirBnBs in Invermere. There’s a lot. It’s choked out the long term rentals.”
After the Pioneer had interviewed Jane and James and written this story, but before going to press with this week’s edition, Jane called with unexpected good news: against all odds she and Moxie had secured a new rental to move into. Jane was over the moon with delight, her excitement and relief clearly audible over the phone. But she was also in no doubt that her happy ending is an exception, not the norm.
“I got lucky. Very lucky. But there are other people out there in Invermere who are not lucky. It’s not a good situation,” she cautioned, and expressed her hope that those who can work to change the circumstances do so.