Low income earners face northwestern B.C. rental challenge

The situation existed even before rents began to climb as regional economy improves

Visitors to the housing index website can search by regional district or municipality.

Even before rents began to climb and the number of places to rent declined because of the busier regional economy, low-income earning tenants here faced problems, according to a new rental housing index website, unveiled last week by a provincial non-profit housing agency

The website, which includes an interactive map showing rental data for each community and rankings based on a number of factors, is based on 2011 census data. It shows that at that time, shelter costs were already consuming much of what low-income earners took in.

According to the website, 63 per cent of renter households earning less than $18,163 spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities, and in order for those households to make their current rental situation affordable (so that they’re pay 30 per cent of before-tax income on shelter costs, the agreed upon ‘affordability’ standard) would need an average of $12,836 more per year to make their current situation affordable.

James Roy from the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA) acknowledged that the statistics are several years old, and therefore do not show an up-to-date picture of the challenges facing renters here right now. But they do provide a benchmark for future study.

“We know that the north, especially the northwest, has entered the crisis relatively recently, so this wouldn’t even show the full dimension of it,” said Roy. “You have problems with rental housing (in the published index) but I think it’s gotten much worse than 2011 – that’s what we’ve been hearing on the ground from our providers up there.”

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The rental housing index puts Terrace in the same range as Kitimat and Prince Rupert, with all three northwest communities ranked in the ‘poor’ category – communities can be ranked as satisfactory, moderate, poor, severe, or critical.

“I’m very interested to see how Terrace, Kitimat, and Rupert will fare in 2016,” said Roy, referencing the next census and when data will be available to update the index. “This is what it was like before … one snapshot in time almost three-and-a-half years ago.”

At that time, according to the index, average rent for a one bedroom unit was $570. A two-bedroom rental cost an average of $654 and a three-bedroom rental went for an average of $837 a month.

BCNPHA has said that the entire province is facing an “affordability crisis” and the northwest is no exception.

“A big, big factor in this is income,” said Roy, noting full-time minimum-wage employees make around $20,000 a year and one quarter of Terrace renter families make around $18,000 or less – a full 25 per cent. “A lot of this is poverty driving this.”

Solutions are multi-faceted – increased supply will help drive down rents, rent supplements, investments in non-profits, co-operative housing, he said. “It’s not just going to be solved by increasing incomes, although that’s a factor, it’s going to take a holistic approach to solve this problem.”