News / Vancouver

Affordability crisis driving Vancouver homelessness: Report

Affordability, not systemic or personal circumstances, is increasingly driving homelessness in Vancouver according to a new report.

Volunteers clear a table at the Union Gospel Mission's annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.

David P. Ball/Metro

Volunteers clear a table at the Union Gospel Mission's annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.

Vancouver’s affordability crunch is taking away people’s ability to fend off homelessness, according to a new report.

The University of Victoria and Union Gospel Mission released a report titled No Vacancy on Wednesday that shows how rising rents, low vacancies, stagnant wages and unchanging social assistance rates are leading to more people being homeless, or at-risk of becoming homeless, than ever before.

This, despite the fact BC Housing has increased the number of social housing units available in Metro Vancouver (to 42,171 from 41,079 in 2011) and that the number of rent supplements provided to people has more than doubled in that time (1,516 from 607).

“Governments are doing things but the question is are we doing enough?” asked Bernie Pauly, researcher at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. and lead author of the report. “[Housing affordability] is affecting all of us and you can see it across the population, from young families trying to buy their first home to someone that’s trying to live on a very low income and is just going to be pushed out onto the street.”

Many of the city’s newest homeless are simply victims of a cruel numbers game, according to the report.

Vancouver’s emergency shelters have remained virtually full over the past five years (currently 97 per cent) but UGM says the number of people it has had to turn away has increased by 25 per cent this year.

The vacancy rate for bachelor suites that cost less than $750 a month to rent was just 0.1 per cent in Vancouver last year, down from 1.3 per cent in 2014.

Rents for those increasingly scarce low-income units have jumped 16 per cent over the past five years.

While the number of social housing units have indeed increased, it is being outpaced by the number of people who need them.

The BC Housing registry has grown to 10,278 people in 2016, from 8,968 in 2012.

At the same time, wages are not kept up with rising costs and basic social assistance rates have not increased in nine years.

“Despite the positive steps that have been taken, virtually every indicator points to an increase in homelessness and housing insecurity in Metro Vancouver, both now and in the coming years,” the report concludes.

The report said it is increasingly out-of-control unaffordability that is determining whether people end up homeless, rather than systemic failures or life circumstances like job loss, illness or family violence.

Pauly suggests the findings flip the traditional narrative around homelessness on its head.

“It really shifts, I think, how we understand homelessness … away from sort of seeing it like there’s something that we need to fix with people. Rather, it’s something we need to fix with systems that have been contributing to this,” she said. “I think that’s a really important conversation. This is really a challenge for people both to get off the street and in terms of people maintaining their housing.”

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