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Renters left behind as Metro Vancouver property values spike, says senior

A senior living in New Westminster asks why government has increased help for homeowners, but not renters, as property values spike

Bob Jacobs, a senior who lives in New Westminster, questions why the government is increasing support to homeowner while subsidies to low income renters lag.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Bob Jacobs, a senior who lives in New Westminster, questions why the government is increasing support to homeowner while subsidies to low income renters lag.

As the provincial government ramps up tax credits and other supports to help homeowners, a New Westminster senior is asking why a rent subsidy program for seniors has been frozen at a rate far below average rent rates for Metro Vancouver.

“They own homes that are worth $1.2 to $1.6 million, but they’re not going to miss out on $570 a year if they didn’t increase the homeowners grant,” said Bob Jacobs, a retired lawyer and former Surrey city councillor.

“Then here’s all these people here spending 50 per cent of their gross income for rent, and they have to squeeze our their food costs, their transportation costs, and their medication costs.”

In response to soaring property values, the province announced an increase in the property value cut-off, from $1.2 million to $1.6 million, required to be eligible for the homeowner grant. The grant allows homeowners to get a tax credit of $570, or $845 for homeowners 65 and older.

Elderly homeowners on a fixed income can also take advantage of a property tax deferral program, and Jacobs believes the $12 million the government will spend to pay for the homeowner grant increase should instead have been used to increase a rent subsidy program (SAFER) available to low-income seniors.

Bob Jacobs outside the apartment building he's lived in for 10 years.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Bob Jacobs outside the apartment building he's lived in for 10 years.

He’s frustrated the government has not acted to implement a recommendation B.C.’s Seniors Advocate made in 2015, to tie subsidy to the average rent amount for a region, as calculated by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In 2007, the rent cap that BC Housing uses to calculate the subsidy amount was $700, just 2.1 per cent above CMHC’s $715 average rent for a one-bedroom apartment Metro Vancouver.

In 2014, the province increased the cap for Metro Vancouver to $765, the only time it’s been increased in the past 10 years. It’s now 51.5 per cent below the average rent for Metro Vancouver, which was $1,159 in 2016. A 2015 calculation by the Seniors Advocate showed that the gap results in a $222 shortfall every month for seniors who make $18,180, the average income for most of the SAFER recipients.

Between 2015 and 2016, rents increased 6.4 per cent, the highest rate ever recorded by CMHC.

“With the very tight residential tenancy market that we have here in Metro Vancouver, over the past number of years virtually every building owner gives the maximum rent increase,” said Jacobs, who receives a SAFER subsidy. “So if you compound it over the years it adds up — but SAFER doesn’t go up.”

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