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Let’s Talk Housing

Launching today: CHV’s podcast, Under One Roof, talks with the CEO of the British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), Jill Atkey.

In today’s podcast, Jill discusses the housing crisis, the cost of living, and how that combination affects young people who are trying to find affordable housing.

Jill has led the BCNPHA as its CEO for the past five years, having previously directed their Department of Research and Education, since 2010. Prior to that, Jill spent five years delivering research for the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. Jill has been on the frontline of the nonprofit housing sector and the complexities that govern it for over a decade.

Jill explains that housing is a type of system, because what happens in one area of that system affects another area. For example, owning and renting are two different things, but a rapid rise in the cost of housing to purchase results in people staying in rentals longer. Adding to that system is the population growth and the lack of rental housing available to meet that growth. The pressure has been building for decades to the point that we are now in a crisis. Metro Vancouver has 150,000 renter households that are spending more than they can afford on rent.

Jill details the systemic factors that have led us to this point, including government involvement.

The impact of the housing crisis is not felt evenly across the population. Jill explains that youth, seniors, women with children, women-led households with children, indigenous households, and indigenous-led households, are disproportionately affected by this crisis.

“In the last census period, we lost a hundred thousand households, or a hundred thousand units of housing, that rented below a thousand dollars a month, because of the increases in rents, largely. And so our most affordable housing stock is being eroded through increasing investment and turnover in ownership of some of that stock.” Said Jill.

How are youth directly affected?

Jill explains: “Housing affordability, for anybody, is a function of two things — your income and the cost of housing. But for youth who tend to have lower incomes that barrier is then much more significant, because, for lack of a better word, they don’t have as much purchasing power in the private rental market. And, one of the biggest effects of this rental market on youth, is just the ability to find decent, affordable housing that meets the incomes that they make, whether they’re students, whether they’re working part-time or full-time, or whether they’re on income assistance. There is not a lot of availability of housing for them.”

The result is that youth are being forced into precarious housing situations. There is also trend where youth are staying longer in transitional and supportive housing, because there’s nowhere for them to go. The result is that there is a backlog of people who need transitional and supportive housing that can’t get access, which is contributing to homelessness.

One in two youth are spending more than they can afford on rent. Half of them are spending more than that 30% of their income on rent — and that’s just in Metro Vancouver, which translates about 36,000 households.

The cost of living is also contributing to this housing crisis — a conservative estimate for a one-bedroom apartment is approximately $2,200 a month. The income that you need to afford that one bedroom is about $88,000 annually!

For youth, the situation is more dire. youth who typically have lower incomes and are competing with working professionals. Youth who are working at a minimum wage job, full-time — 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year — are looking at an annual income of $35,000. On top of that, youth often face discrimination due to their age and stigma attached to being that young. There are additional barriers that youth from the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQAI+ communities face.

In addition, there are associated costs with renting, such as damage deposits and first and last month rent, so it costs a youth thousands of dollars to even get their foot in the door.

“I think the biggest barrier to social housing is the fact that we don’t have enough of it.” Said Jill.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. Jill touches on the fact that within the non-profit sector right now, in British Columbia, there is a building boom. Buildings are constructed to better environmental standards and there are a lot more partnerships happening.

Jill said that BCNPHA has an acquisition strategy that they are trying to get the federal government to approve, to address the shortage, because building affordable housing will take time. The investment strategy will allow non-profits and co-ops to purchase existing purpose-built rentals, where they can secure that affordability over time, and in perpetuity.

Jill feels that it is extremely important for everyone to keep pressure on the government to address this crisis. She suggests writing to your elected officials, your MLAs, your MPs, and to show up at public hearings for the municipality that you live in to voice your support for nonprofit or rental housing projects coming forward.

Jill also encourages everyone to donate to causes that you care about. Non-profits are able to stretch donation dollars much further than anybody else can — “the flexibility that those donations give are really, really tangible. Donations provide the flexibility that government donations don’t. That flexibility is invaluable and it allows organizations, like Covenant House, to really cater to the needs of the individuals that they serve.”

Listen to the full podcast here.