Vancouver renters squeezed to the streets, says new report

A joint study by the Union Gospel Mission and the University of Victoria found Vancouver's sky-high rental rates and low vacancies are pushing people out onto the streets — and preventing those already on the streets from getting housed.

Sky-high rent and low vacancy rate making it difficult for people to stay housed

A person sleeps on an abandoned mattress in Vancouver's Nelson Park. A joint report by the Union Gospel Mission and the University of Victoria says unaffordable rental markets are forcing people out to the streets. (CBC News / David Horemans)

A new study from the University of Victoria and the Union Gospel Mission says Vancouver's sky-high rental rates and low vacancy rates are pushing people into homelessness — and preventing those who are already homeless from getting housed.

"People who are living on low income ... have faced an increasingly unaffordable, unavailable housing market," said study author Bernie Pauly, an associate professor in the school of nursing with the University of Victoria.

Pauly said one problem is social assistance rates have not kept up with the average rental rates. A person on social assistance receives around $375 per month, but rental units for that price — or close to it — are limited in Vancouver and elsewhere in the province.

In fact, the report found the vacancy rate of Vancouver bachelor suites renting at $750 per month plummeted from 1.3 per cent in 2014 to 0.1 per cent in 2015.

Coupled with dwindling supply, many Vancouver residents are facing dire circumstances.

Shelter space full

"We're seeing more and more people coming to our doors," said Jeremy Hunka, senior public relations specialist with the Union Gospel Mission, a shelter in Vancouver.

Hunka said in the past year, the shelter has had to turn away more people and has struggled to find housing to help people get out of homelessness.

"We have people homeless because they can't find a place to go live," he explained.

"Never before have we seen a structural factor like affordability playing such a major role in the lives of people who come to the Union Gospel Mission."

All levels of government have role

Pauly said all levels of government has a role to play in eliminating homelessness.

"For the municipal government, homelessness is often at their doorstep, but they have — in many cases — not all the resources to be able to address it."

While the provincial government has committed half a billion dollars for affordable housing initiatives this year, she said the province should also consider raising social assistance rates.

As for the federal government, Pauly said a national housing strategy is overdue, and it should be paired with actual investment to social housing.

"We know the need. We are doing something, but are we doing enough? We would say no," Hunka said.

With files from The Early Edition and Daybreak South

To listen to the interviews, click on the links labelled Unaffordability pushing people into homelessness, and preventing them from getting out and New study says Vancouver rental market pushing people into homelessness