Dan Fumano: Housing issues are a national problem, especially acute in British Columbia

British Columbia leads all Canadian provinces in percentage of residents living in unaffordable, unsuitable or inadequate housing, new data shows

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British Columbia leads all Canadian provinces in the percentage of residents living in unaffordable, unsuitable or inadequate housing, according to new figures.

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This finding may not come as a shock to residents of British Columbia’s notoriously unaffordable cities, such as Vancouver, but the latest set of census figures highlights the scale of the challenge across the province and the country.

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Information released Wednesday shows that, across Canada, one in 10 households are in “core housing need.” This means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, live in a home that is overcrowded or in need of major repairs, or a combination of these factors.

BC’s rate is the highest among the provinces at 13.4%.

Only Nunavut reported a higher level of core housing need, at 32.9%, and although the territory is experiencing a housing crisis, its high level of need is mainly due to overcrowding and poor housing conditions. , not unaffordability.

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Of the 13 cities in Canada reporting the highest level of core housing need, 12 are in British Columbia. They include big cities like Vancouver and Surrey, suburbs like White Rock and Langley, and smaller communities like Greenwood, with its population of 665.

One of the main takeaways from the latest figures is that the national level of households in core housing need has actually fallen from 12.7% in the 2016 census to 10.1% in 2021. Although While this is a significant drop – and that obviously sounds like good news if fewer Canadian families are struggling with inadequate housing – the results call for some serious caveating.

The census was taken in mid-2021, after COVID-19 prompted an unprecedented government response, including direct financial support benefiting many low-income households, particularly renters, Andy Yan said, director of the municipal program at Simon Fraser University.

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“If anything, it proves that the social policy of what you should be doing to deal with affordability and poverty is to give people money. It’s like, “Oh my God, they won’t spend it on cigarettes and booze, they’ll spend it on rent and food,” Yan said.

Canada’s response to COVID, he said, has demonstrated “the reduction in poverty that occurs with better transfer payments. It’s history.

“But what will it look like in the future, when income support and transfer payments end, and you now have inflation?” Yan said. “I think we still have a lot of work ahead of us before anyone can say Canada is affordable.”

Simon Fraser University Town program director Andy Yan at Coal Harbor in 2017.
Simon Fraser University Town program director Andy Yan at Coal Harbor in 2017. Photo by Mark van Manen /PNG

Steve Pomeroy, a housing expert in Canada, agreed that the national decline in the rate of core housing need is significant, but should be recognized as a “statistical aberration” because of COVID. He predicted that any positive trend in the reduction of core housing need will be “massively reversed once we see the end of all these benefits.” … It will wipe out those apparent affordability gains, so it’s a bit of a smoke and mirrors story on the affordability coin.

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“We have now proven to ourselves, through these particular mechanisms, that this is a much faster and much more efficient way to reduce cravings,” said Pomeroy, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and an adviser. Executive of the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative. “We should do more.”

Pomeroy also pointed out that British Columbia has reported a much smaller decrease in core housing need between the last two censuses, compared to other provinces and nationally.

British Columbia has reported steeper declines in homeownership rates than most other provinces, massive rent increases and immense amounts of wealth creation for landlords – and it’s important to understand how these things are connected, said Paul Kershaw, associate professor at the University of BC

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The new numbers show how home prices in Canada have clearly decoupled from incomes, which became acute many years ago in Metro Vancouver, Kershaw said, but has now become “a national phenomenon.”

When house prices started leaving local incomes in the dust many years ago in Metro, Kershaw said, “We didn’t sound the alarm because a lot of us, myself included, were getting richer.

Kershaw, who bought his home in Pitt Meadows 18 years ago, said: ‘I urge the citizens of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia to move the conversation from housing affordability to accumulation of real estate wealth, because we have done so much.

Paul Kershaw, associate professor at the University of British Columbia.
Paul Kershaw, associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

This week’s census release shows homeownership rates are falling across Canada, in British Columbia more than in most provinces, with the drop being greatest among young people.

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This comes as no surprise to Kershaw, the founder of Generation Squeeze, a nonprofit group that studies the challenges facing young Canadians. But, he said, it illustrates how “the lottery of the moment – ​​from when someone comes of age to adulthood – really transforms the class dynamics in our society.”

That doesn’t mean people who bought homes a generation or two ago did anything wrong, Kershaw said. But, he said, it’s fair to ask them: “Your child or grandchild is working hard today, and that hard work won’t pay off as much as it did for you – don’t Don’t you worry about our society evolving in a way where hard work doesn’t pay off like it used to?”

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