Rent ‘crisis’ hits single moms hard: study

More details released on challenge of housing affordability in Lower Mainland

Young people and single mothers are severely stretched to pay their rent in most of the Lower Mainland’s suburban communities, according to a new study.

The updated Rental Housing Index, first released by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association a year ago, now provides a more detailed look at different demographic groups of renters, based on 2011 census data.

In the Fraser Valley, one third of single moms who rent pay more than half of their income on rent and utilities. That climbs to 36 per cent in Surrey and 47 per cent in Coquitlam.

BCNPHA CEO Tony Roy says that demonstrates an affordability “crisis” when more than half of income goes to paying the rent, raising the risk of homelessness.

“They are clearly the demographic group that is the most challenged with affordability,” Roy said of single moms. “It’s worst in Coquitlam, but it’s also extremely challenged in Maple Ridge, Langley and in Surrey.”

Roy said the revised index also shows immigrant households are twice as likely to be in overcrowded rental accommodations as the general population, although that may in part reflect a preference for intergenerational living.

In Surrey, the index shows a quarter of young people renting are spending more than half their income on rent.

“You’re probably not left with very much,” Roy said.

“I think this is why, particularly for young parents, the incidence of food bank use is just skyrocketing. Because people are spending all their money to keep a roof over their heads.”

In Surrey, construction workers are the top renter group by occupation, which Roy said may come as a surprise.

“I think there’s a perception that when we talk about renters, we’re talking about young people, maybe retail workers, maybe people working at Starbucks.”

Abbotsford, meanwhile, may have lower rents – the average cost there is $866 a month – but incomes are also lower.

That’s among the factors that result in Abbotsford ranking 502 out of 521 cities in the country on the rental housing index.

“Clearly there’s a rental housing affordability challenge in Abbotsford,” he said.

The worst ranking city in Canada is Burnaby at number 521 in the index, and Surrey, Vancouver, Richmond, New Westminster and Coquitlam are all barely above it in the bottom 10 nationally.

Roy said Canada essentially cut off federal support for social housing about 20 years ago and the communities that have been growing fastest since then – Surrey, Coquitlam and others in the Fraser Valley – have grappled with the worst shortfall of purpose-built rentals as a result.

“These communities have grown up over the last 20 years without a federal partner,” he said.

“We need all levels of government to step up to the plate.” added LandlordBC CEO David Hutniak. “We need tax incentives for the building of new purpose-built rental and for the renovation and enhancement of aging existing rental stock to offset high land and construction costs.”

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