More B.C. renters are spending over half their income on rent and utilities each month than anywhere else in Canada, a new report has found.
The Canadian Rental Housing Index, released Monday, found that 16 per cent of B.C. renter households fall into that category, compared to 15 per cent in Ontario, 13 per cent in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, and 12 per cent in Alberta.
The index, updated for the first time since 2018 using 2021 census data, also found that British Columbia has the second-highest number of renter households in the country spending 30 per cent or more of their income on rent and utilities, at 38 per cent.
Spending more than 50 per cent of one’s income on rent is considered a “crisis level” of spending, according to the index.
“B,C. continues to be one of the most unaffordable provinces in Canada to be a renter across almost all data points,” reads a Monday news release on the index.
“Those renting in B.C. are unable to save money for a rainy day and are at a higher risk of homelessness if evicted. Since the last census, British Columbia has had the largest increase in average rent.”
As of 2021, the index found that 11 per cent of B.C. renter households were also living in “overcrowded conditions,” an increase of 21 per cent from 2016. The problem was the worst in Surrey, at 24 per cent, followed by 16 per cent in Burnaby and Delta, and 15 per cent in Whistler.
Nationwide, the average was 10 per cent. In Ontario, it was 13 per cent.
A reported seven per cent of British Columbian renters live in units that need major repairs, the same average as the rest of Canada.
British Columbians, however, are paying more on average each month for utilities and rent in such units: $1,492 compared to $1,208 nationwide.
In Vancouver, that monthly cost averages $1,658. In Toronto, it amounts to an average $1,560.
The index found that affordability challenges for youth in particular are the highest in Ontario and B.C., with 45 per cent and 44 per cent of youth spending more than 30 per cent of their income on monthly rent and utilities, respectively.
“Whether you’re in Smithers or Kitimat or Prince George or over on the island, there is a rental affordability crunch that many renters are experiencing,” BC Non-Profit Housing Association CEO Jill Atkey told Global News.
“The federal government used to invest very heavily into non-profit and co-op housing to the point that at the peak years of those programs, one in every five homes in this country was a non-profit or co-op home and that went to zero in 1993. So they’re starting to get that back up and going but we need to see a lot more of it.”
On Monday, B.C. Premier David Eby was in Burnaby to announce funding for 1,500 new rental units, with the province providing $250 million for 10 separate projects.
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley said the city has focused on approving more non-market rental, but admitted there was more work to do.
“We have 30 years of non-action on rental homes, and especially affordable rental homes,” he said. “And now we’re all playing catch up.”
In April, the B.C. government announced a multibillion-dollar, four-point housing plan aimed at cracking down on soaring real estate prices, increasing construction and creating more rental units.
The ‘Homes for People’ project includes a promise of legislation that allows up to four units on a single traditional housing lot, a tax on the proceeds of house-flipping, and a forgivable loan of 50 per cent of the cost of basement suite renovations, up to a maximum of $40,000 over five years, if the secondary suites are rented at below-market rate for at least five years.
It also includes measures to speed up permitting and reduce development costs, with a goal of leveraging the private sector.
The plan is expected to cost $4-billion investment in the first three years and $12 billion over a decade.
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