B.C. posts Canada’s highest unaffordable housing rate, homeless fear death on streets – Coast Mountain News


British Columbia’s high housing costs are affecting people from all walks of life, from young professionals who can’t afford down payments to students and low-income renters to people who live in tents and fear becoming homeless, Canada’s federal housing agency says Advocate.

Statistics Canada data released Wednesday said BC leads the country as the province with the highest rate of unaffordable housing.

Data collected from the 2021 Census states that BC ranks as the most unaffordable province, largely due to the number of people paying high rents to live in Vancouver’s urban centers.

“BC at 25.5 percent and Ontario at 24.2 percent had the highest rates of unaffordable housing nationwide in 2021,” the report said, adding that the measurement is based on the proportion of households that have 30 percent or spend more of their income on accommodation costs.

“This was primarily due to higher rates of unaffordable housing in the renter-heavy major urban centers of Toronto at 30.5 percent and Vancouver at 29.8 percent.”

Marie-Josée Houle, who was appointed Canada’s first federal housing attorney last February, said a two-week fact-finding visit to BC this summer convinced her that housing in Canada isn’t working, as homes are now viewed more as investment potential than locations would live.

“It’s failing,” said Houle, who is preparing a report and recommendations to be presented to Federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen this fall.

The National Housing Strategy Act of 2019 stated that “the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law”.

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“Housing and housing affordability are becoming increasingly unaffordable for most Canadians,” Houle said in an interview from Ottawa.

“Those who have least, people who are in a core housing crisis, the result for them is not just, ‘I’ll never be able to save a deposit on a house,’ but ‘I’m going to die on the streets. ‘”

Many people in BC spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing, Houle said.

“What experts call financialization is actually the commercialization of housing as an investment,” she said.

BC taxes foreign homebuyers and homeowners who leave second homes vacant to increase available rental properties, but rising home prices keep investors looking to make money, Houle said.

She said she has met with housing agency representatives and social advocates in BC, but has also spent time in homeless camps in Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George.

“We spoke to people with lived experience,” Houle said. “We spoke to people in camps and asked them, ‘What’s not working?’ Why did they choose to stay in camps instead of using some housing facilities?”

At Vancouver’s Crab Park, located on downtown’s Eastside, people said negative experiences with assisted living or single rooms had led them to believe a tent was their only option, Houle said.

“I’ve never heard of anyone choosing to live in camps because it’s cool,” she said. “It’s not a family camping trip. It’s survival.”

At Stadacona Park in Victoria, Houle said she spoke to a man in his 60s who lost a hand in an accident at work.

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“He’s so scared he’s going to die on the street,” she said.

At a camp in Prince George known as Moccasin Flats, Houle said she has spoken to Indigenous people living with addictions and involved in sex work who feel ashamed or afraid to return to their family homes despite being traumatized on a daily basis are the street.

“They’re fleeing trauma and encountering trauma and they don’t have a safe place to land,” she said.

Houle said the resources available to BC’s housing providers are underfunded and local governments are too often busy addressing serious issues ranging from property maintenance to mental health.

“The fact that the (camps) exist is a manifestation of the failure of the housing system in Canada,” she said.

The latest census data showed that Canada’s overall homeownership rate fell from its peak of 69 percent in 2011 to 66.5 percent in 2021.

BC saw the third largest decline in home ownership from 2011 to 2021, from 70 percent to 66.8 percent, while Prince Edward Island saw the sharpest decline, the report said.

BC also leads Canada in the number of renter households, with Kelowna seeing a more than 54 percent increase in renters.

The sharp increase in the number of renter households across BC suggests people are being forced to reevaluate homeownership goals, but could also signal a shift toward potential homeowners choosing permanent rental, said Prof. Margot Young, socioeconomic rights expert at the University of BC Allard School of Law.

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“Is the best way to state the goal that everyone should own a house?” she said in an interview. “In other countries, lifespan leasing as a lifecycle is not seen as uncommon. Maybe we’ll change that a bit.”

First-time buyers in BC overwhelmingly choose condos as their “gateway to homeownership,” according to the report.

“BC had the largest proportion of condo residents among provinces in 2021, with 23.6 percent of households designating a condo as their home,” the report said.

This includes 32.5 percent of Vancouver households.

According to the report, most renter-occupied condos are owned by individuals, likely as investment properties.

“According to the Canadian Housing Statistics Program, more than three-quarters, more than 77 percent, of BC condominiums and more than two-thirds, nearly 70 percent of Ontario condominiums were non-homeowner-owned were owned by individual Canadian investors,” reads in the report.

It also showed that improvements in household incomes across Canada are reducing basic housing needs, but nearly 1.5 million Canadians still live in conditions defined as unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable.

“The poorer you are, the harder it is to access affordable housing,” Young said, adding that she wasn’t surprised that after years of rising prices and low vacancy rates, BC was ranked as the province with the most unaffordable housing.

“Rent prices for single rooms, arguably occupied by some of our most vulnerable and poorest citizens, are very high, disproportionately high.”

– Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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