High housing costs in British Columbia affect people from all walks of life, including young professionals who cannot afford a down payment, low-income students and renters, and people living in tents who have fear of dying homeless, says Canada’s federal housing advocate.
Statistics Canada data released Wednesday indicates that British Columbia leads the country as the province with the highest rate of unaffordable housing.
Data collected from the 2021 census indicates that British Columbia ranks as the most unaffordable province for housing in Canada, largely due to the number of people paying high rents to live in downtown Vancouver.
“British Columbia at 25.5% and Ontario at 24.2% had the highest rates of unaffordable housing nationally in 2021,” the report said. “This is largely due to the higher rates of unaffordable housing in the large, tenant-dense urban centers of Toronto at 30.5% and Vancouver at 29.8%.
Marie-Josée Houle, who was named Canada’s first federal housing advocate last February, said a two-week fact-finding visit to British Columbia this summer left her convinced of housing in Canada, where homes are now seen more as investment potential than places to live, not working.
“Housing and housing affordability are becoming increasingly out of reach for most Canadians,” said Houle, who is preparing a report and recommendations to submit to federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen this fall.
The National Housing Strategy Act 2019 declared that “the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law”.
Many people in British Columbia spend 50% or more of their income on housing, Houle said.
Housing as an investment
Houle said she met with housing agency representatives and social advocates in British Columbia, but also personally spent time in homeless encampments in Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George.
At Vancouver’s Crab Park, located in the city’s Downtown Eastside, people said negative experiences with supportive housing or single room rentals led them to believe a tent was their only option, a Houle said.
At an encampment in Prince George known as Moccasin Flats, Houle said he spoke with Indigenous people living with addictions and involved in sex work who are too ashamed or afraid to return to their family homes despite daily trauma in the street.
“They run from trauma and experience trauma and don’t have a safe landing place,” she said.
Houle said the resources available to B.C. housing providers for supports are underfunded and municipal governments are too often forced to address serious issues ranging from property maintenance to health. mental.
Fewer Canadians own a home
The most recent census data showed the homeownership rate in Canada fell to 66.5% in 2021, after peaking at 69% in 2011.
British Columbia saw the third-largest decline in homeownership from 2011 to 2021, at 66.8% from 70%, while Prince Edward Island saw the largest decline, according to the report.
British Columbia also leads Canada in the number of renter households, with Kelowna posting an increase in renters of more than 54%.
First-time home buyers in British Columbia largely choose condominiums as “the gateway to homeownership,” the report says.
“British Columbia had the highest share of condominium dwellers among the provinces in 2021, with 23.6% of households calling a condominium home,” the report said.
This includes 32.5% of Vancouver households.
The report says most tenant-occupied condominiums are privately owned, likely as investment properties.
“According to the Canadian Housing Statistics Program, more than three-quarters, more than 77%, of condos in British Columbia and more than two-thirds, nearly 70%, of those in Ontario that were not inhabited by the owner belonged to individual Canadian investors,” the report said.
It also showed that improving household incomes across Canada are reducing core housing need, but nearly 1.5 million Canadians still live in conditions defined as unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable.