Nowhere in Canada did rents rise faster than in British Columbia, according to the latest Canadian Rental Housing Index.
Average monthly rents and utilities in B.C. rose 30 per cent to $1,492 between 2016 and 2021 with the Canadian average hitting 21 per cent. Ontario recorded the second-highest increase during that period with 27 per cent.
Not surprisingly, these increases have pushed many British Columbians who rent — the province is home to just over 660,000 rental households — to the financial edge.
Almost one out of four (38 per cent) renters spent more than 30 per cent of their incomes on rent and utilities in 2021. Sixteen per cent paid more than 50 per cent, which places them at greater risk of homelessness, according to the report.
Affordability is worse for households led by women, as well as racialized groups.
The report also found significant gaps in the quality of rental housing. Eleven per cent of renter households lived in what the report described as overcrowded conditions. Seven per cent found themselves living in units needing major repairs, with nearly one in four racialized households living in overcrowded conditions.
Jill Atkey, chief executive officer of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, said the figures show what she describes as the “collective failure” over the past quarter-century when it comes to rental housing investments.
“The hundreds of thousands of renters struggling to get by in today’s crushing rental markets expect all levels of government and industry stakeholders to work together to solve this crisis,” she said.
BC Non-Profit Housing Association developed the Canadian Rental Housing Index in partnership with comparable organizations across Canada using data from the 2021 long-form census received from Statistics Canada through a customized data request.
The figures became public Monday, just hours before Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon joined Burnaby-North Janet Routledge and Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley to announce 1,500 rental homes in Burnaby. The homes are spread across six developments, with three underway and three scheduled to start later this year. B.C. is spending $253 million on the developments in partnership with BC Housing and the City of Burnaby among others.
Eby said some of the units will be for Indigenous people, seniors facing homelessness, families with low incomes and people living with disabilities. He pointed to Burnaby as one of B.C.’s fastest growing communities, which has also managed to build housing faster than the regional average.
“I look forward to standing in front of one of these new developments in a couple of years to announce even more housing in Burnaby, because the need for affordable housing will only grow as our communities continue to grow,” he said. “We need to keep looking for solutions.”
He added B.C. needs more housing as the province continues to attract people. He pointed to various recent initiatives, including $500 million to protect existing rental homes from re-development and a $400-grant for renters subject to income-testing among others.
“The basic message to British Columbians, who are struggling with housing affordability — and we know that they are out there — from me, from our government, is that we stand with you,” he said.
“Every rock that we can turn over to find an opportunity to build housing in this province, we are doing it. We know there is a lot of work ahead. So we are dedicated to this issue because homes are for people.”