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'Crisis level' of B.C. renters spending more than half their income on rent and utilities


British Columbia now has the highest share of renters spending more than half of their income on rent and utilities in Canada.

That’s according to a new study highlighting the struggle to keep up with the province’s ballooning cost of living.

The Canadian Rental Housing Index has released its latest findings, revealing a staggering increase in rental costs.

Between 2016 and 2021, the largest increases in average rents in Canada were in British Columbia, which saw a 30 per cent jump.

“We need to invest heavily in non-profit housing, heavily in co-op housing and we have to reduce the barriers to actually increasing supply and developing more homes. We haven't seen that happening," said Karin Kirkpatrick, the BC United housing critic and MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano.

Sixteen per cent of renters in the province are using more than half their income to pay for rent and utilities each month, which the index considers a crisis level of spending.

“Spending over 50 per cent of your pre-tax income on rent means you're foregoing other basic necessities,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association.

“So you're probably cutting back on food. Rent is always the first thing to get paid. You're probably starting to cut back on kids' extracurricular activities. So it has a real impact on quality of life,” she added.

According to the most recent census data from 2021, British Columbians are paying an average of nearly $1,500 dollars a month for utilities and rent.

That’s compared to $1,200 nationwide.

More and more people can no longer afford to put a roof over their heads.

“Inflation rates and other things are affecting people. So even who we consider most vulnerable is shifting. We look at a low to moderate income bracket for eligibility, but who falls into that category has steadily been increasing,” said BC Rent Bank’s managing director Melissa Giles.

BC Rent Bank is a project of Vancity Community Foundation, funded by the provincial government.

It supports a network of 15 different rent banks across the province. The network provides assistance to moderate income earners who are renters, and who are facing a temporary crisis and can’t afford rent or essential utilities bills.

When the project started back in 2019, it received about 300 applications a month.

That number has increased exponentially.

“So this year, in the first five months, we've seen over 3,000 applications come in from renters across B.C.,” said Giles.

Eleven per cent of B.C. renters are also living in “overcrowded conditions,” representing an increase of about 20 per cent over five years.

The situation is worse in Surrey, where 24 per cent of renters are living in cramped quarters.

Housing advocates say the latest data shows a collective failure of rental housing investments over the last quarter century.

“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,” said Atkey.

In April, the province released its so-called Homes for People plan, including a $4-billion investment over three years and $12 billion over a decade.

It aims to increase density, deliver supportive housing, change zoning to make basement suites legal across the province and crackdown on house flippers.

“We had two decades of no investment in housing, and the chickens are coming home to roost, and we're paying the price for that lack of investment. That's why we have to double down, we have to build more housing, affordable housing, and we have to do it much faster than we've been doing,” said Ravi Kahlon, BC’s Housing Minister. Top Stories

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