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In the City of Vancouver, 44 per cent of tenants do not have affordable rent.  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines affordable housing as shelter that costs less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. ACORN BC says,” One in five households in Metro Vancouver spend half of their income or more on shelter”.

One year ago, the City of Vancouver said that $3,702 rent was “affordable” housing for a 3 bedroom and $1,903 for a one bedroom; and in East Vancouver a three bedroom rent of $3,365 was affordable.  

Rental housing is scarce.  A single mother is quoted on a CBC release saying, "Everything that was in my price range was kind of dumpy and just not suitable for my daughters and I." At a recent neighbourhood conversation held in Little Mountain Riley Park, community members commented on the lack of rental housing in the area citing that most housing is owned.  There are approximately 1.5 million renters in British Columbia today. Vacancy rates in BC are some of the lowest in the country, averaging 1.3% and in some communities, such as Vancouver and Kelowna, the vacancy rate has fallen below 0.9%.

Affordable housing is an issue in BC and more so in Vancouver. In April 2018, Premier John Horgan appointed a Rental Housing Task Force to advise on how to improve security and fairness for renters and rental housing providers in BC. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/rentalhousingtaskforce/   Their task was to receive submissions from interested parties, review the information and offer advice to the BC government on how it can “ensure safe, secure and affordable rental housing in BC”

Reading through the submissions that are available on line and comments provided by our members, you will see common threads.  A few comments are:

  • Councilor Jean Swanson says rents will keep rising unless vacancy control and rent freezes are implemented.
  • The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition says, “We are calling for stronger tenant protections including tying rent control to the unit as a central recommendation within an effective poverty reduction plan”. They add, “Without rent control tied to the unit, many of the government’s policy changes will not have the beneficial impact expected or hoped for”.  For example, the social assistance rate increases in the past year have been eaten up by increases in the cost of (SRO) rental housing.  Stronger tenant protections, and building affordable social and rental housing is needed.
  • The Office of the Seniors Advocate says, “The most vulnerable are the 20% per cent of seniors who are both low income and renters. The median income for BC seniors is $26,000 a year, who spend 35% of their income on housing, leaving them with $16,900 a year ($1400/month) to meet all other expenses. But, half of BC seniors who rent have a gross income of $21,000 ($1530 per month) or less. These seniors make tough choices on what bills to pay or prescriptions need to be filled (the deductible for Pharmacare was recently eliminated for those on low income but the co-payment remains). Many necessities including: assistance with housekeeping, grocery shopping, shoveling the sidewalk, a walker, eyeglasses and hearing aids, all have fees that add up and cannot be paid with their monthly income.
  • ACORN Members’ Top Three Priorities are Lack of affordable housing; Rent control loopholes; and Renovictions and demovictions.
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says, “There is a grave risk that all the improvements and gains experienced for low-income people due to minimum wage increases, welfare rate increases, child care fee reductions and more will be wiped out by rent increases”.

At the same time, Canada recognizes housing as a human right.  So, what did the BC Government learn through the Rental Task Force and what is next?  While they have a Report with recommendations released in the fall 2018, let’s look at what the latest BC Budget included:

  • Funding for 200 Modular housing units but Councilor (and CCEC Member). Jean Swanson, who introduced the city’s motion calling for 600 more modular homes, recently estimated there’s a need for 2,500 units in Vancouver.
  • Establishing a province wide rent bank, which provides low-interest loans to renters who need immediate, short-term relief to prevent unnecessary evictions.
  • Providing additional benefits to seniors living independently in rental accommodation, through the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, by an average of $930 per year,

There is also a groundswell of community members rallying and creating options to deal with the lack of affordable housing and coming up with various options.  For example, CCEC Member, the Galiano Community Loan Fund.  While they are not working specifically on the rental housing situation, they are providing funds to support housing on the Island and their story is worth mentioning. The fund was created by Galiano Islanders who have come together as lenders to support borrowers in the community who need access to affordable housing on the Island (and other needs).  Over the past 8 years, the fund has provided loan guarantees of approximately $100,000.  To date, they have not had one loan that has not been or is not being fully repaid.  Anita Braha, President for the Fund says, “Most, if not all of those loan guarantee decisions were made by the Board.  We know each other.  We are neighbours, friends, we may work together, we may volunteer together.  In most cases, the loans have a large component of character behind them”. 

Their model has been successful.  Anita says, “There seems to be a lot of interest in what I will call impact financing; that is, money raised and used to benefit people and communities”.  They have been contacted by various firms interested in community investment programs, seeking to better understand their fund and to get advice on this type of initiative. The Federal Government also recognizes the benefit of the social finance ecosystem and marketplace by investing $50million into an investment readiness stream  (Lauren Dobell, VCIB, Nov. 25/18)

Yes, housing and especially the lack of affordable rental housing is an issue.  Cities throughout B.C. have been too reliant on housing such as secondary suites to fill the rental stock.  We need to put more emphasis and reorient our thinking towards secure, long-term rental housing.

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