Paul Liberatore

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Vancouver’s hot real estate prices force companies to get creative to lure talent

Employers are being resourceful and creative in order to lure top talent to Metro Vancouver in the face of the region’s steep residential real estate prices.

Some seek outside help to make their hiring pitch more attractive, while others take a more direct approach and offer substantial housing subsidies aimed at prospective renters and owners.

“I think it is increasingly difficult for companies to attract people to Vancouver,” said relocation specialist Antoinette Ridout. She helps ensure her clients hire somebody who feels comfortable with Vancouver and will stay for the long term.

“Attracting talent especially from places like Dubai or places where taxes are lower — they just are used to more disposable income.”

Ridout tours short-listed job candidates, and sometimes their families, through neighbourhoods and cities and discusses issues they will face, everything from schooling to banking to child care and even obtaining a social insurance number. Most of her clients are mining and high-tech firms and she helps ease a worker’s move to an unfamiliar setting by managing the myriad details.

Inevitably, the conversation turns to housing, and Ridout said she doesn’t candy coat the high cost of living a worker faces when moving here.

“We really want them to be as realistic as possible about their move,” she said.

As home prices have increased, Ridout has seen an increased willingness in recent years for potential transplants to look outside of Vancouver, and has relocated some to places like Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and Langley.

She’s also noticed it takes longer and has become more difficult to find a suitable home for her clients today, compared to two or three years ago.

Beauty outdone by price beast

Relocation specialist Shelly Smee says biotech and engineering companies, among others, are quickly learning that Vancouver’s picturesque mountains and lifestyle offerings are no longer enough to lure specialized professionals to town because of soaring home prices.

Local employers had been paying less for equivalent positions in big cities like New York and San Francisco, but bridged that gap by pitching the region’s natural beauty and recreational options.

But the hot housing market has flipped that strategy on its head

“I’ve done quite a few orientation tours, and they don’t end up taking the position,” Smee said.

These last-minute rejections cost her clients tens of thousands of dollars, forcing them to start the time-consuming international-placement process all over again.

As a result, more of her clients are weeding out prospective employees by addressing the housing issues first, she said.

UBC offers home subsidies

Instead of turning to people like Ridout for help with its faculty and staff recruitment challenges, the University of British Columbia rolls out a complete relocation department along with a significant housing subsidy program.

The university’s rental and home ownership programs enticed Hedy Law to move from Dallas to Vancouver in 2012, after she applied for a position in the department of music.

“When I came here, yes, I was very terrified. How am I going to be able to afford this city?” she said.

For the first four years, her rent was subsidized by the university. Now she’s been approved for the home-ownership program, which gives her access to up to $330,000 in a zero-interest second mortgage for a home purchase. It doesn’t have to be repaid until after the home is sold.

Retaining and recruiting faculty has been a priority for the university, said Michael White, UBC’s associate vice president of campus and community planning.

More than 75 faculty have applied for the second mortgage home ownership program, he said. Nearly 500 one-, two- and three-bedroom condos have been built on campus for faculty and staff at 25 per cent below market rental rates, with 200 more of these restricted rental units under construction and hundreds more being planned.

Offering housing on campus that’s within walking or cycling distance of their work, is also attractive because it reduces monthly transportation costs, he said.

To further entice talent, UBC has built complete communities on campus that feature child care, parks, community centres and shopping amenities and services, all within walking distance of campus homes.

But as house prices continue to climb, White said the university re-assesses what else it can do to remain competitive as an employer.

“We are looking at ideas for addressing affordability and we continue to do so,” he said. The question isn’t just about what the university is doing, but how quickly it is acting in the face of the quickly-evolving real estate market.

“We try to tackle the affordability issue on a number of fronts and that’s not saying that it’s still not a big challenge, because it is.”


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