Residents of single room occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside saw hefty rises in rents in 2017, and community activists are calling the situation a crisis.

According to a report from the Carnegie Community Action Project, the average monthly rent in a private hotel in the DTES rose by $139 last year to $687 per month. For someone living on welfare and paying the average rent, that leaves only $23 a month for food and other essentials.

The report points out that’s less than a dollar per day.

“We want to emphasize the fact that this is an emergency that needs immediate action from all three levels of government,” said Lenée Son, CCAP coordinator.

The report says 2017 was the worst year for homeless residents in the DTES since it began doing annual reports in 2008. It said 500 units of affordable housing were lost last year, despite the number of low-income people in the area growing.

“As the rents increase in these housing units people are no longer able to afford it,” Son said. “They’re forced to move out.”

For many, that means moving out onto the street.

Some 168 units were lost because the Balmoral Hotel was closed by the city due to unsafe conditions and more were lost when the Jubilee on Main Street was sold and renovated.

The province has pledged to build 600 units of modular housing for homeless people, but organizers with CCAP say that’s not enough to house everyone in need.

“Modular housing, we think, is a great temporary solution,” Son said, adding that permanent low-income units still need to be built.

The report speculated on several reasons why rents increased so much last year, and two of them have to do with landlords knowing that tenants might have slightly more money at their disposal.

Welfare rates increased by $100 in 2017, but the report says that tenants on welfare will actually be left with less since they’re handing more money over in rent.

Another reason for increased rents could be that landlords know some tenants are eligible for rent supplements, the report suggested.

The third reason for the rent increases the report pointed to is a lack of rent control when tenancy changes. When an old tenant moves out and a new one moves in, landlords are no longer bound by rent controls.

“We’d like to see rent control based on the unit instead of the tenant,” Son said.

The report also said the neighbourhood is losing affordable units to condos and market rentals through gentrification. One solution the CCAP suggested is to not provide incentives for landlords to upgrade units unless rents stay at welfare rate.

The CCAP is calling on the city to buy or lease SRO hotels to prevent gentrification and designate more land for social housing.

It also suggested imposing non-profit management on hotels with outstanding maintenance violations.

“The conditions are just horrific,” Son said. “The city doesn’t enforce maintenance bylaws at a lot of these SROs like we saw at the Balmoral.”

It also wants the city to include no-eviction deals in renovation and building permits.