Once a haven for cheap rent, the suburbs are pricing people out.
It’s no secret that rental housing in the Lower Mainland has crossed the crisis point.
While Vancouver is notably the most expensive place to rent, the suburbs are becoming less and less a safe haven for affordable rental housing stock, according to a recent report from the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA).
The Rental Housing Index is an interactive map of rental data collected over the last year that paints a depressing picture of the downturn in affordable rental housing not only in the region, but across B.C., according to Tony Roy, BCNPHA’s executive director.
“We have to do something,” Roy says. “Every piece of research we’re doing shows the situation will get worse before it gets better.”
The study also found that of the 304,270 renters in Greater Vancouver, nearly half spend more than 30 per cent of their gross income on rent, which surpasses the recommended affordability cap. Another quarter of renters spend more than 50
per cent of their gross income on rent.
Roy says most renters know that what they pay is too high, but don’t feel like they have much choice.
“We’re not building more rental housing, so renters are forced to overspend, living in overcrowded or deteriorated conditions, or they become homeless,” he says. “It’s a shame because it’s far cheaper to plan for more rental housing than to deal with the huge costs linked to homelessness, on the health and justice systems. If we don’t invest in affordable housing today, we end up paying a much higher price down the road.”
As Greater Vancouver also faces significant overcrowding—47,410 renter households live in conditions too small for their needs—the association estimates an additional 63,000 more bedrooms are needed to meet the growing demand.
“Incomes are not keeping pace for people most in need and they’re getting squeezed out,” Roy says. “Developers, the province and the federal government need to start thinking of rental housing as building community.”
To gain a stronger idea of the issues facing suburban renters, I visited the homes of people living across the Lower Mainland. Here are excerpts from our conversations.
Melody Skoco, New Westminster
“The reason why we rented in New West was because it was closer to my friend’s work. I’m on disability so I can’t live on my own; wherever my roommate chooses to rent, I go with him.
“[The apartment] looked better than this back in the day. Now it’s I don’t like living here at all because the maintenance of it. The maintenance is really poor.
“Living here, you don’t get a say. The carpets are old. They were supposed to put brand new carpets when we moved in but we got these ones. It’s all concrete underneath so there’s nothing to keep your feet warm. I tell people to leave their shoes on and stuff because it’s so cold.
“If you look in the hallway, that’s my bed. I sleep (in the living room) at night. I sleep on the floor. I don’t actually have my own room.
“I’d like to move to Coquitlam because it’s flat there and there’s the mall. Everything’s convenient. You can just walk over. The Coquitlam Centre area, it would be nice to go there.
“It would be nice to have my own place instead of living with a roommate.
“I can’t afford my own rent [to live alone]. I make $906 a month [on disability] and to rent a one bedroom is really difficult. Even if I did find a place that’s cheap, they have rat problems, bed bug problems, cockroaches.
“You kind of have to sacrifice in order not to have those other problems.”
Maureen Daniels, Coquitlam
“Over 30 years ago, I moved here. The main reason is I had one son and we looked for a place and I couldn’t afford to buy because I was a single mom so that’s why I looked for something at a reasonable rent. And this place was it.
“It’s central, nice area. The apartment’s a very good size so I like that. It was near a little park here so I thought that was an appropriate area for my son to be.
“I think now we feel that there’s not any consideration given to people that need rental suites. And there’s obviously a lot of people that need them. To buy nowadays, you need a lot of money.
“I like this area. I’m quite happy here. At this stage of my life I don’t think I want to go wandering to look for somewhere else that I like.
“They’re going to tear down this complex for a major redevelopment in a few years. My neighbour, both of us, we’re planning to stay here with the company and go into another apartment while they rebuild.”
Donna Paterson, Surrey
“I love Surrey. We moved into Surrey originally for the first time in ’92 and divorces happened and everything. I went back in Burnaby for a while and (my son) wound up in various places. Then, when he moved back in with me, we lived in Delta and Surrey—we went back and forth. We wound up in Kwantlen Park and renovictions kicked us out of there.
“We have two dogs: we had to find a place quick who would take the beasts. So we wound up here.
“Both of us are on disability. (The rent’s) gone up to $868 a month. And they want this complex torn down.
“We’ve looked at [moving to] Hope. We could rent a whole house for less than what we pay here.
“But because I don’t drive, I like it here because I’m at the SkyTrain.
“I’d still [like to] live locally because my other son lives in Burnaby and I have to have access to him because his kids are in town right now. I like to be close to my grandkids when they’re here. It’s close knit, we know everybody.
“I wouldn’t go back to Burnaby: the rent’s too high. Vancouver? No, it’s even worse.”
Rick Erb, Burnaby
“This is the way things worked out for me because I had a stroke. I was sent to a group home out in Langley and I lived there for eight months. Then I graduated up to a family care home in Burnaby and I lived there for 18 months. And then I got lucky and I got into this housing and so this has been good.
“I’ve been here ever since [six years]. It’s good. I’m close to Superstore. I can go there shopping. It’s fairly affordable. I’ve got a rec centre across the road for swimming. And close to transportation is really nice.
“I am fortunate compared to many other renters in Burnaby...there are people in Burnaby that need to get their places upgraded and there’s no standard for maintenance legislation in Burnaby to force landlords to upgrade their rental property when they need to be upgraded.
“It really is a sad situation.
“I’m very lucky here. It’s 40 years old. I’m very happy here. For the most part, Burnaby is a friendly place to live.”