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Cost of living figures not all bleak for Greater Victoria

In the 2013 Victoria Vital Signs report, nearly half of the 1,200 respondents ranked cost of living as their most pressing issue.

It also found more than 60 per cent of people were moderately stressed or worse about personal finances. Around local water coolers, people often complain their wages aren't keeping up with the cost of basic goods.

Certainly at the lower end of the wage spectrum the numbers bear that out.

Last year the Community Social Planning Council calculated $18.73 an hour as the living wage in Greater Victoria: the minimum amount a couple with two children would each need to earn just to adequately get by in today's local economy.

The 2013 figure was 3.7 per cent higher than the year before ($18.07). The council pointed to higher accommodation and other shelter costs, transportation, food and shelter costs as reasons for the jump.

"It always seems that when you're on an Island, your food gets here by ferries. It's always a concern when there's incremental increases to input costs (for suppliers)," said Dallas Gislason, economic development officer for the Greater Victoria Development Agency.

The region's average one-per-cent inflation rate – calculated using a different basket of goods than the living wage – can be looked at as a positive for people looking to invest here and create jobs, he said. Gislason added the region's economic growth has also been about one per cent, showing stability during this rebound from recession.

At the same time, he said, things like older workers staying in their jobs longer, or returning to work can put downward pressure on wages for others.

While the living wage report painted a rather bleak picture, the most recent Statistics Canada information showed Greater Victoria's median total household income of $79,350 was significantly higher than the national average of $72,240.

On the housing front, the largest line item in any household budget, real estate prices have been flat for some time and are expected to remain so, along with mortgage rates. Our rental vacancy rate, meanwhile, was 2.8 per cent in October – lower than the national average of 2.4 per cent, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In general, more availability keeps rental rates in check, but that hasn't necessarily panned out.

Average rents in October were $706 for a bachelor suite, $833 for a one-bedroom, $1,068 for a two-bedroom and $1,281 for suites with three or more bedrooms.

Prices for the two smallest categories, of which there are far more in the region, especially in Victoria, have gone up between five and 6.5 per cent, depending upon location, since 2011. By contrast, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit has remained fairly constant the past two years, while larger units actually dropped in price.

The supply of rental accommodation is increasing, with several buildings being constructed or renovated specifically for that purpose. And condo building construction continues unabated, meaning people should have plenty of choices to break into the real estate market.

The Vital Signs report showed the poverty rate in Greater Victoria has risen to 8.6 per cent from 7.6 per cent in 2010.

Gislason takes a positive approach to figures like that and the living wage. He encourages people to bring an entrepreneurial approach to their workplace.

"My message to the workforce, and when we talk to people who are looking to moving to Victoria, is this is probably a more difficult environment to land a job and have everything work out fine," he says. "Find ways to add value to your company, ways to enhance what you bring to the table or to create your own job."

ddescoteau@vicnews.com

Other StatsCan facts and figures:

• Gas prices for regular unleaded ranked sixth-lowest among Canada's largest cities as of last November. Only cities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (ranging from 1.03 to 1.15.5 per litre) were cheaper.

• Victoria's Consumer Price Index, a function of inflation and a calculation of the increase in overall cost of such basic elements as housing, food and transportation costs, actually went up less in Victoria between 2008 and 2012 than in virtually any other major city in Canada. (we actually tied Calgary for the lowest increase, but Calgary was much higher to start with)

• While our new housing prices continue to be among the highest in the country, Victoria homes saw the greatest drop in value since 2007 among our country's largest metropolitan areas. Only in B.C. and Alberta did values drop in that time relative to 2007 prices.

• Welcome BC produces a Cost of Living Calculator (costofliving.welcomebc.ca), aimed at new immigrants, that helps people looking at moving to the province or moving from one town to another in B.C. determine what they'll need to get by.

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