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Cost of Living

Gordie

Gordie Dojillo

Godei Dojillo was working as a cook on a tanker ship when he took his sister up on a challenge to move to Canada. “She lives in Winnipeg and she was always challenging the family (from the Philippines) to come,” he says. “I had been working on ships for 15 years and I was ready for a change.”

When Godei moved to Fort McMurray he had a job as a cook with the Sawridge Inn & Convention Centre. “They took care of everything for me, arranged all of the legal matters and had staff housing for me.”

Because he worked on ships and travelled from cold to warm climates all over the world he found the move an easy one. In fact, he had spent so much time on water that he welcomed the change. “It’s been four years since I arrived and I feel very comfortable here.

Household Income

The average household in Wood Buffalo (based on 2012 data, and often made up of more than one wage earner) earns about $189,458. That's 103% higher than the national average (per capita), and significantly higher than the provincial average as well. For example, the average household in Edmonton earns $98,632 per year and the average household in Calgary earns $129,000 per year. 

Discretionary income is much higher in Wood Buffalo than elsewhere in the province and the country. After essential expenses such as food, clothing, shelter and utilities are taken care of, the average discretionary income is $30,464. Compared to that of Calgary at $16,081 or Toronto at $7,723, it means the average household in Wood Buffalo can spend and save much more than in other areas.

Household Expenses

Although wages are typically higher in Wood Buffalo, it is important to note that the cost of living, especially for housing and transportation, is also higher than in many parts of Canada. Costs in the urban centre of Fort McMurray are lower compared to costs in outlying communities. 

Here are some examples of the cost differences between Fort McMurray and the rest of Alberta:

Item/Service Average cost per year
(Wood Buffalo)
Average cost per year
(Alberta)
Food $14,549
$9,715
Shelter $31,008 $20,233
Clothing $6,554 $4,176
Transportation $21,120
$13,775
Health & Personal Care $6,124
$4,222

The Wage Gap

While there are people who earn a lot of money and don’t have problems paying for things like housing and basic needs, not everyone in Wood Buffalo earns high wages. As in every other Canadian city, there are jobs in the area that do not pay as well and can leave workers with little disposable income after they pay for their needs. For example, service industry and retail jobs usually pay more than in other parts of the country, but it is important to consider if that higher wage will be enough to cover the cost of living, especially for households with one wage earner.

In some jobs, including some professional jobs, wages are limited by province-wide collective bargaining agreements or corporate policy. This means that not all incomes pay above average wage for that profession compared to the rest of the province, but the cost of living in Wood Buffalo will still be higher.

Housing Costs

The urban service area of Fort McMurray is surrounded by Crown land, meaning there is limited land available for development where most people live. In the recent past there has been very low availability of rental housing and homes to buy, resulting in high rental and real estate costs.

Housing costs in Fort McMurray are the highest in the province. In 2012, the average price of a single family home was $751,232 and the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment was over $1648. You can find accurate information regarding housing costs and rental rates on the Wood Buffalo/Fort McMurray Labour Market Information website

Rental vacancy rates have been low in recent years due to the growth of oil sands development. They reached nearly 5.5% in Oct. 2013, and were about 11.8% as of Oct. 2014.

Residential developments are being built in the area to increase supply and make housing more affordable. The provincial government recently released Crown land which will be available for developers to build additional housing for up to 1,000 families. Housing, including affordable housing, continues to be a priority for stakeholders in the region.

Help with Housing

Subsidized and transitional housing is available to help qualifying families and individuals find shelter in the area, but the waiting period can be long. Through subsidized housing the rental rate is based solely on the family's income. There are shelter programs and temporary housing; however they do not always have space available.

Wood Buffalo Housing & Development Corporation (WBHDC) was created by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to provide residents with affordable housing alternatives in the region. WBHDC provides affordable housing to qualifying Wood Buffalo residents, from single income families to seniors and the public sector. It also helps families enter the homeownership market through its Affordable Home Ownership Program which is unique to WBHDC. These homes are not available for rent and are not for sale on the regular real estate market. They are reserved for people who work and save but still can’t afford to buy a home in Wood Buffalo. The WBHDC is developing and planning many housing communities for the next few years, that will help to bring more affordable housing to people who live in the Wood Buffalo area.


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