B.C. is the most unaffordable province for housing in Canada, census data shows


British Columbia’s high housing costs are affecting people from all walks of life, including young professionals who
can’t afford down payments, students and low-income renters and people living in tents who are afraid they will die homeless, says Canada’s federal housing advocate.

Statistics Canada data published Wednesday said B.C. is leading the country as the province with the highest rate of unaffordable homes.

The data gathered from the 2021 census said B.C. ranks as the most unaffordable province for housing in Canada, due largely to the number of people paying high rents to live in downtown Vancouver.

“B.C. at 25.5 per cent and Ontario at 24.2 per cent had the highest rates of unaffordable housing nationally in 2021,” said the report. “This was largely because of the higher rates of unaffordable housing in the renter-heavy large urban centres of Toronto at 30.5 per cent and Vancouver at 29.8 per cent.”

Marie-Josee Houle, who was appointed Canada’s first federal housing advocate last February, said a two-week fact-finding visit to B.C. this summer left her convinced housing in Canada, where homes are now considered more for investment potential than places to live, is not working.

“Housing and housing affordability is becoming more and more out of reach for most Canadians,” said Houle who is preparing a report and recommendations to submit to federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen this fall.

A real estate sign in front of a house that reads 'FOR SALE'.
A real estate sign is pictured on June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The 2019 National Housing Strategy Act declared that “the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law.”

Many people in B.C. are spending 50 per cent or more of their income on housing, said Houle.

Housing as an investment

Houle said she met with housing agency representatives and social advocates in B.C., but also personally spent time at homeless encampments in Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George.

At Vancouver’s Crab Park, located in the city’s Downtown Eastside, people said negative experiences with supportive housing or single-room rentals left them believing a tent was their only option, Houle said.

At an encampment in Prince George known as Moccasin Flats, Houle said she spoke with Indigenous people living with addiction and involved in sex work who are too ashamed or afraid to go back to their family homes despite facing daily trauma on the streets.

“They are fleeing trauma and encountering trauma and not having a safe landing place,” she said.

Houle said resources available to B.C.’s housing providers for supports are underfunded and municipal governments are too often left trying to deal with serious issues ranging from property maintenance to mental health.

Fewer Canadians own homes

The most recent census data showed Canada’s home ownership rate fell overall to 66.5 per cent in 2021 from its peak at 69 per cent in 2011.

B.C. posted the third-largest home ownership decline from 2011 to 2021, to 66.8 per cent from 70 per cent, while Prince Edward Island saw the sharpest drop, said the report.

B.C. is also leading Canada in the number of renter households, with Kelowna showing an increase in renters of more than 54 per cent.

First-time buyers in B.C. are largely choosing condominiums as a “gateway to home ownership,” said the report.

“B.C. had the largest share of condo dwellers among the provinces in 2021, with 23.6 per cent of households calling a condo home,” the report said.

That includes 32.5 per cent of households in Vancouver.

The report said most tenant-occupied condominiums are owned by individuals, likely as investment properties.

“According to the Canadian Housing Statistics Program, over three-quarters, more than 77 per cent, of the condos in B.C. and more than two-thirds, almost 70 per cent, of those in Ontario that were not being lived in by the homeowner were owned by individual Canadian investors,” said the report.

It also showed that improvements in household incomes across Canada are reducing core housing need, but almost 1.5 million Canadians still live in conditions defined as unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable.

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