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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.

Share your thoughts and comments! 
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The nutritious diet recommended in the new Canada Food Guide is out of reach for millions of Canadians because they can’t afford it.

If we want to stop millions of Canadians from going to bed hungry every night, we need to ensure that they have the ability to access food. So, who is going hungry in this country?  We know that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada. However, did you know that we have a growing community of working poor whose wages do not cover basic necessities? Inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meagre pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity in this country.

Did you know that 31% of single mothers are missing meals so their kids can eat? Or that one in six children live in households that can’t afford to put supper on the table? In BC, the average monthly cost of the 2017 nutritious food basket for a family of four is now $1,019.  

Individuals don’t fare better. A person receives $760 per month on social assistance and has $18.25 per week to spend on food. Despite the two increases in the past year that have raised the rate to $760 per month, the additional $150 has been eaten by the increase of $130 in rents to Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (example).  Jean Swanson, speaking to her experience on the Welfare Food Challenge says, “It was hard eating on $19 a week (2017 amount). I tried, then cheated and gave up. The food was too boring and not nutritious. Dieticians have told us that you just can’t have a healthy diet on this paltry amount of money.”

The new Canada Food Guide aims to support people to live healthier lives. The new guide provides guidance on what we should eat that is more plants and plant-based protein, more whole grains, less sugar, less saturated fat—and more importantly,  how to eat—at home, with others, with joy and  pleasure. The addition of this social context is important. We know the power of food to connect us to our communities and neighbours thereby increasing our sense of belonging. 

The guidelines in the new Canada Food Guide are to be commended, especially introducing the social aspect on eating with friends, family and at home. As long as we continue to have poverty in our rich country, there will be millions of our neighbours who cannot afford to live healthier lives.  Poverty is the root of the problem for those who are food insecure. 

We encourage all our members to support the work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, and to support food and garden programs that allow all our community members to eat and share a meal together. CCEC will continue to advocate for decent living wages and fairer social benefits.

For more information:

The new Canada Food Guide highlights the biggest obstacle to healthy eating—poverty – McLeans Article

The New Canada Food Guide

Jean Swanson on Why the Welfare Food Challenge was cancelled in 2018

 * Food Costing in BC 2017: Assessing the affordability of healthy eating  October 2018

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Good for most families, disappointing for individuals.  The first-ever Poverty Reduction strategy reflected in the BC Budget announced February 19, 2019, brings good news for low-income families but did not ‘raise the rates’ to lift those on social assistance out of poverty. At the same time, some of the investments made, while small on the scale of the budget, may significantly change the lives of some of our more vulnerable community members.

BC has some of the highest levels of poverty in Canada for all age groups. In a wealthy province like ours, such poverty and homelessness is unfair and unnecessary. It is also extremely expensive.

This blog outlines a few areas of the budget we feel are of most interest to our members and member groups. We encourage you to read further through the links at the end of this blog.

For Families:

Student loans become interest-free as of today. A good start, however, some provinces provide grants that you don’t pay back and some countries provide free post-secondary education.  We will see improvements to employment training programs delivered by WorkBC, additional funding to increase access to adult basic education and English language training and a small funding boost for trades training.

The new BC Child Opportunity Benefit is great news for low-income families with children.  The expansion of the provincial child benefit increases the provision from 6 years old to 18 years old. However, by setting the threshold for the maximum benefit at $25,000 means that many single mothers and other families will see their benefit reduced while they are still below the poverty line.

For Individuals:

One in three singles live in poverty in BC.  180,000 people live on income assistance.

The increase to welfare and disability rates of $50 per month will remain thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Benefits for single, employable individuals will continue to be less than 50% of the poverty line (as measured by the Market Basket Measure). Now a single person on income assistance will receive $760 per month. It is felt that disability rates should be increased to $1,500 per month and index rates to the cost of inflation. It takes: 1.16billion to bring up income assistance rates to the poverty line in BC which is only 1% of the provincial GDP.

Homelessness

In BC, it is estimated that 7,700 people are homeless.

The Budget included funding for 200 new units of Temporary Modular Housing units beyond the 2000 announced last year. Also, $15 million in funding to develop a province-wide homeless response strategy over the next three years.  In Vancouver this past year, we brought online 650 units of housing, demonstrating that we can eliminate homelessness if this is prioritized.

Given the surpluses budgeted over the next three years, we have the capacity to invest more substantially in poverty and homelessness.  We look forward to seeing more significant measures and the long-term vision in the full poverty reduction strategy to be released shortly.

References used in this blog are:

 BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

Inclusion BC

Raise the Rates

Central 1 Flash Report

CCPA

 

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Did you know that:

·         In BC, 50% of all seniors live on an income of less than $26,000/year?

·         The 2018 Homeless Count found that 23% were over the age of 55?

·         It is estimated that by 2038, about one in four people living in B.C. will be a senior?

Seniors face many issues and challenges that include social isolation, loneliness and poverty.  The Seniors 411 Society offers programs that reduce social isolation, increase social inclusion, and are a critical component of any anti-poverty strategy.  The Society’s submission on a Poverty Reduction Strategy for Seniors (Feb. 2018) states that the BC plan must address both increasing income and helping reduce or manage costs.  They also provided recommendations in seven areas that include housing, transportation, food insecurity and community based programs.  BC is still the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan.

In the 411 Seniors Centre Society submission, they emphasize the importance of community and social connections for seniors.  Seniors have told staff at the Society that they feel a loss of community if they move to a different and unfamiliar neighbourhood.  However, aging in place and finding quality, affordable rental homes in Vancouver, is a challenge for seniors on low and fixed incomes.  The new 411 Seniors Centre (anticipate ground breaking in Spring 2019) is a step to providing more seniors social housing.  It will have approximately 50 units of social housing, a multi-purpose centre and be located close to other amenities and services they need.

Leslie Remund, Executive Director for the 411 Seniors Centre Society, says, “We are a peer led membership organization that aims to cushion the impact of poverty by providing information, referral and advocacy services, a drop in for socialization & connection& daily activities that promote aging with pride and curiosity.”   The Centre strives to enhance the quality of life of seniors by adding a collective voice on seniors’ issues such as affordable housing, income, and health services.   Join us!”

Find out more about the 411 Seniors Centre Society.  Support their capital campaign for their new building.

(This year, CCEC was pleased to support a fundraiser for the 411 Seniors Centre Society.)

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Get out and VOTE in the upcoming municipal elections.  Voting day is October 20th.  Advance Polls are now open. 

Read the Vancouver Voter's Guide to learn more about the candidates and their positions on issues that are important to you, like housing.  Attend candidate meetings.  

Learn more at the City of Vancouver website. 

 

 

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Today the CCPA published a great blog post on the land wealth inequality. Using publicly available data from Stats Canada and the Canadian Revenue Authority, Alex Hemingway documents how the rich get richer. This is a BC based analysis of how the boom times have enriched the top 20%, or the top 5% even more.

The concentration of wealth in relatively few hands is difficult to swallow in an allegedly 'democratic', egalitarian country.  The top 20% by net worth own 62% by value of all the real estate designated principal residences; and 80% of all the other real estate (presumably rental, commercial, and industrial). 

On the flip side, the 60% with lowest incomes own only own only 13% of the value in principle residences.

When property values escalate it is clear who gains.  In 2016, Hemingway notes, Vancouver single family properties jumped $47B in market value, roughly equal to the entire provincial budget in that year.  We can estimate that 62% of that or $29B went to the wealthiest 20% of households - and most of it 'tax free'. (@$6B went to the bottom 60% of households!)

The post notes that this inequality is the result of tax treatment, and Hemingway endorses the new speculation tax and new school tax that will require higher value landowners to pay more.  He suggests implementation of a progressive property tax.  Yes, these are good measures, but we should also place a cap on the capital gains tax exemption for principal residences.

The existing tax regime benefits the wealthy because they pay attention and lobby.  Ordinary people have to push for a fairer system.  It is possible to get this tax question on the table for the next Federal election.  It did come up last year

This item from policynote.ca is a call to action for those of us who want to challenge the status quo.  The Provincial government has done the right things so far, but there is more to do. 

 

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