Housing cost gap bedevils Greater Victoria renters

Thousands of individuals, families and seniors continue to struggle with housing affordability in the Greater Victoria area, according to a new housing-gap analysis.

Almost 49,000 households in the capital region, an estimated 31 per cent, are considered to be in housing need — spending 30 per cent or more of the total household income on shelter costs, says the analysis, prepared for the Capital Regional District.

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The fact that costs are high and incomes is low are not surprising, says Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, vice-chairwoman of the CRD’s planning, transportation and protective services committee, which will receive the report in the coming week.

“This is so not a surprise,” said Helps, who hopes to attack some of the affordability issues through her recently released draft economic action plan.

“We often attack these problems as social problems or housing problems, and they certainly are that,” she said.

“But also part of the answer is creating an economy that has room for everyone, and that’s what the economic action plan is about.”

The report, prepared by the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria, says 1,239 households were on the B.C. Housing wait-list for social housing in the capital region in 2015.

Fifty-one per cent — 636 applicants — were in Victoria, followed by 271 in Saanich and 149 in Esquimalt. Seniors accounted for 40 per cent of the wait-list.

And many social housing units are at risk of losing senior government-funding. In the CRD, about four per cent (467 units) have rent supplements (cash assistance). Twenty-four per cent, or 2,524, units have subsidy agreements with the federal or provincial governments.

Almost 25 per cent of those agreements are due to expire over the next five years, and half will expire over the next 10 years, the report says.

Helps says the CRD has already endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to renew the subsidy agreements.

The 2014 vacancy rate for the 23,866 purpose-built rental apartment units in the capital region was 1.5 per cent, but the vacancy rates for more affordable units is at levels not seen since 2007-08.

The median before-tax household income for a renter household in the capital region was $38,583 in 2010. An affordable rent for that income is $965 a month.

There is an affordability gap of $130 a month between what the median household income can afford and the average rent for a two-bedroom market rental unit. The gap increases to $324 a month for two-bedroom condominium units.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, average rents have increased by 30.4 per cent between 2005 to 2014 — an average annual increase of 3.2 per cent. The inflation rate over the same period was 17.3 per cent, an average increase of 1.2 per cent a year.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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