The newly launched Canadian Rental Housing Index collects data specifically on renters and rental units in the country, and the numbers for B.C. look pretty dismal.
One in four renters in the province are spending 50 per cent of their income or more on rent alone, leaving slim margins for other expenses. Standard budget research shows that a typical household should not spend more than 30 per cent of their paycheque on rent.
“You can’t pay less rent – you’ll quickly find yourself evicted. Everyone pays their rent first and cuts back on everything else, but there’s only so much you can cut back,” Jill Atkey with the BC Nonprofit Housing Association told Vancity Buzz.
“As a country we’ve always prioritized home ownership through policy, but what the index shows is that it just isn’t working.”
The Canadian Rental Housing Index examines rental issues in over 800 cities and regions across the country. While B.C. doesn’t have the highest average rent in Canada, we have the worst problem with affordability, which is a function of average income and rent.
“Based on the numbers in BC, we need a reinvestment in housing from all levels of government,” said Atkey.
“For a couple of generations now, we’ve seen a disinvestment in housing. On the social housing side, we’ll always have a portion of the population who needs help – we’ve seen a huge disinvestment in that.”
Atkey said part of the problem lies in a lack of incentive for developers to create purpose-built rental units. It’s easier to turn a profit by selling units rather than the slower return of renting them out, but she believes it could be incentivized through federal tax breaks.
And in Vancouver in particular, the bottom half of renter households makes less than $42,000 a year. Atkey is calling the situation in the province and Metro Vancouver a crisis.
“There’s really nothing being built for that segment of the population – that’s about 150,000 renters who aren’t having their needs met,” she said.
Another key issue is the outlying suburbs in the Metro area. Atkey said people are moving out of Vancouver but are running into the same affordability issues elsewhere.
“We thought the city of Vancouver would score the worst on the index, but Burnaby, Coquitlam and Richmond all scored worse. People are moving to the suburbs, but they aren’t finding more affordable housing.”
With the federal election coming up, she said it’s more important than ever to get the ball rolling on rental housing policy, which she said hasn’t been discussed during an election in years.