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‘It’s nowhere that I’m happy to call home’: City survey finds private SROs unaffordable

A survey by Vancouver city staff has concluded that SROs, or single room occupancy buildings — often deemed a last resort for housing — are becoming increasingly unaffordable for those on income assistance.

The “2023 Downtown Core Low-Income Housing Survey” found that at least 60 per cent of residents living in private SROs are spending more than half their income on housing, rents are increasing faster in private buildings that change owners and private SRO rooms are no longer affordable to those on income assistance.

According to the report, since 2003, the number of privately owned and operated rooms renting at the shelter component of income assistance decreased from 1,700 to 52 rooms. In the last three years, average rents in the private SRO stock increased by 21 per cent, from $561 to $681, while the number of rooms renting at twice the shelter rate increased by 18 per cent, from 769 to 911 rooms.

Coun. Pete Fry said the housing stock is being depleted due to fires, neglect and converting low-income housing to more profitable units that people cannot afford.

“We know we’re in a housing crisis now, but it’s looking like it’ll only get worse without some real significant interventions,” said Fry.

Jennifer Nelson has lived in a Downtown Eastside SRO for the last seven years and is on disability. She said she was homeless prior to finding her current place, but said she’s dealt with a myriad of issues, including feeling unsafe.

“It’s nowhere that I’m happy to call home,” she said. “I need to be able to breathe and in this kind of housing, it does not feel like you can breathe. It’s very claustrophobic living. Small rooms, shared bathrooms, shared showers. It’s not an ideal way for humans to live.”

According to the provincial government, for the first time since 2007, income assistance to the shelter rate will increase from $375 to $500 dollars in July.

"That’s still not enough to live on in this city,” said Nelson, who added that one third of her income is allocated to her rent.

On Tuesday, Vancouver council will address the low-income survey, along with proposed changes to the Single Room Accommodation Bylaw. One of the amendments includes increasing the amount council may require as a condition of approving an SRA permit from $230,000 to $300,000 to fund the costs of replacing a room that is being removed from the SRA bylaw.

Fry acknowledged the amendments won’t do much to solve a much larger crisis.

“This is really kind of trying to put out a fire with a squirt gun in many respects,” he said. “These bylaws are about as much as we can do as the city, but really the underlying issue here is we need some significant investment from senior governments into building housing that isn’t just SRO stock.”

The province has pledged to deliver 330 new or renovated units in the Downtown Eastside by June.

Nelson is one of thousands of residents wanting safe, affordable housing, yet she says she feels she's not being heard.

“It seems like they don’t need to fix anything, they don’t need to maintain anything because we’re poor,” she said. “That shouldn't be how it is. We are still paying rent. We are still paying for services that we’re not getting and that shouldn’t be acceptable.” Top Stories

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