EXECUTIVE director Tony Roy from the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association

Affordable housing needed in northwestern B.C.

Conference in Terrace highlights critical need for construction

TOO many people in Terrace and area have to spend too much of their income on rent and utilities, says the executive director of a provincial non-profit housing association which held a meeting in Terrace on June 18.

“In the past 18 months, in purpose-built rentals – these are not someone renting a room out of their basement – rents have gone up 17 per cent in Terrace,” Tony Roy from the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association explained.

“And the vacancy rate in Terrace between 2006 and 2013 went from 12.7 per cent to 0.4 per cent.”

Although vacancy rates have improved over last year, Roy said there remains a critical shortage of affordable housing which is defined as people paying 30 per cent or less of their income on rent.

The affordable housing situation in Terrace is rated poor overall by the Non-Profit Housing Association who crunches the provincial numbers each year. The average rent is $722 per month which translates to 22 per cent of the average income of the renter. This is lower than the provincial average of $988 per month totalling 24 per cent of total income, but the average Terrace resident still spends nearly double the percentage of their income on housing as Kitimat residents do.

It is the high rent prices that are making a dent in people’s income in Terrace, says Roy. “An economic boom is generally a good thing for a community,” he said, “but at the same time we have to make sure that residents get their fair share of the [benefits].”

The statistics are startling for Terrace which sees 44 per cent of its residents spending more than 30 per cent of their income on on rent and utilities. A further 18 per cent of Terrace citizens pay more than 50 per cent of their income to their housing and utilities providers – a situation that is considered critically unaffordable and people may be foregoing necessities in order to pay for housing, according to the Non-Profit Housing Association. That means that more than 60 per cent of tenants in Terrace are having trouble making ends meets with their high rent costs.

Roy explained that the problem in Terrace comes down to supply and the low vacancy rate in Terrace. At least 140 rental-bedrooms are required to meet the demand in Terrace, according to last years data on the association’s website. This shortfall ranks Terrace near the top of low vacancy cities in B.C.

The problems surrounding skyrocketing rents and a low supply of housing are also forecast to increase over the next 25 years.

“Things are going to get worse before they get better,” Roy projected, citing that existing housing livability will deteriorate as rents continue to increase.

“Someone from a lower income bracket may have a place to live [now], but it all of a sudden there is a leak in the basement and they have to evacuate their home, if there are no vacancies … the only other option is to live in a homeless shelter,” Roy described of a situation he believes will become more frequent in the Terrace area.

He also indicated that homelessness is overall more taxing on a society than providing affordable housing.

Roy also explained that non-profit groups and policy makers are the ones who can make the most difference in providing affordable housing because the private sector tends to focus on higher end accommodations.

“The private sector won’t be the ones who come in and houses people [in need],” Roy said. “Terrace is going to need to find a way to develop affordable housing.”

Housing developments of this nature are unlikely to be supported by higher levels of government, noted Roy. “Before 1995, the federal government had a fund for building affordable housing, but over the last 20 years we have started to accumulate a backlog [of need for affordable housing],” he said.

Approximately 60 people gathered in Terrace June 18 for the non-profit housing association-sponsored conference, including Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc and Prince Rupert mayor Lee Brain.

Roy said the association’s directors felt that hosting the conference here would highlight the “acute need” for affordable housing in the area.