Terri Mattin is executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association. Robert Barron/Cowichan Valley Citizen

Shelter me: Rental housing crunch plaguing Vancouver Island

The Big Read: family living in borrowed RV, unable to find space in tough rental market

Angie Mossa didn’t foresee homelessness in her future this time last year.

Mossa, a community support worker in Duncan, and her two young daughters were happily living in the same four-bedroom home in Crofton they had for six years when she got the call.

Her landlord notified her in January that he was selling the house and she had two months to find another location to live.

Mossa was paying $1,000 a month for her rented house, what she had been paying since she first moved in. She thought at the time she would have little trouble finding another place to live. But her search proved fruitless.

On April 1, Mossa and her children — an 11-year-old and a four-year-old that has special needs — were forced to move into a RV camping trailer on a friend’s property in Maple Bay.

“I had no idea that finding an affordable place to rent in the area had become so difficult,” she said. “I looked at the small number of available rental units with at least three bedrooms from the Malahat to Nanaimo and the rents ranged from $1,600 to $2,300 a month. What makes it even harder is that I have a therapy dog for my four year-old with special needs and many landlords don’t want pets.”

Mossa said she makes approximately $30,000 a year at her job. She considers that a decent wage, but the rent and utilities at her Crofton home still took up to 75 per cent of her salary. That was tough enough, but the skyrocketing rents in the region make the situation even worse.

“I’ve always lived a very stable life with a great upbringing, a career and babies so this is very upsetting to me,” she said through tears. “We’re now living in my mom’s cramped RV where my kids don’t have their own bedrooms or space. I’ve been telling my children that we’re just camping for awhile and they seem okay with that for now. I keep looking every day for a place for me and my daughters to live, and I intend to keep looking, but this is affecting me a lot.”

The situation is hardly unique to Mossa’s part of the Island.

In December, Black Press talked to Sooke construction worker Andrew Tyrrell, who was — along with his girlfriend, three children and two dogs — living in a 200 square-foot trailer in his friend’s yard, because they were unable to find anywhere else to rent, a situation his boss said is not uncommon in the industry.

Meanwhile, in Victoria, the rental crunch was forcing city council to review its rules about sleeping in cars.

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Terri Mattin, executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association, said Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation statistics indicate a 6.9 per cent decrease in rental vacancies across Canada in the past four years. An increase in housing prices due to increased demand has led to upward pressures on the rental markets.

According to a release from the CMHC, population growth, especially among the 20-34 and 65+ groups, contributed to stronger demands in B.C. as young adults and seniors have a higher tendency to rent.

“In addition, migration has likely played a role in maintaining low vacancy rates province-wide, as net migration accounted for almost 90 per cent of total population growth during 2016,” the release read.

Mattin said that between the 1950s and the 1970s, incentives were in place to encourage developers to build affordable housing projects, but investment in these projects has decreased considerably since the 1980s.

“We’re just not seeing the stock of available affordable housing units available like we used to, and the demand for these units has been steadily increasing over their supply,” she said. “It’s been determined that 750 affordable housing units are currently needed in the Cowichan Valley alone to keep up with demand, and it’s been estimated that we will need an additional 1,000 units on top of that by 2021. Communities across B.C and Canada are facing the same challenges.”

Statistics Canada benchmarks housing affordable housing as costing 30 per cent of a person’s income or less. It reported last year that nearly a quarter of Canadians spent more.

The housing situation in B.C. right now sees an estimated 7,000 people living on the streets and a need for more than 100,000 units of market housing to compensate for 25 years of missing government investment in social housing.

A statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on the issue acknowledges that B.C.’s ongoing housing crisis is hurting people, businesses and communities. It says solving the housing crisis won’t be easy, and British Columbians need to work together to create affordable homes for people as quickly as possible.

“Through our 30-point plan, Homes for BC, our government is making the biggest commitment to housing in our province’s history to help build homes for people, create local jobs and open up economic development in communities,” the ministry statement said.

“We are investing more than $7 billion over 10 years for the kind of homes and supports people need, in every corner of the province – urban, suburban, and rural. Just last week, we sent out a proposal call to municipalities, non-profits and co-operative housing societies to build 14,000 new affordable rental homes throughout B.C.”

RELATED: Victoria the sixth-most expensive city to rent in Canada

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The ministry statement also said the government is expanding eligibility and increasing rental assistance benefits for low-income seniors and working families.

“This will help families and seniors stay in their homes and their communities,” the statement reads. “These enhancements will benefit 35,000 households, including 3,200 newly eligible families and seniors. Effective Sept. 2018, on average, seniors will receive an extra $930 per year, and the increase for families will be about $800 more a year.”

The federal government also has recently announced a national housing strategy that has committed $40 billion over 10 years and aims to build 100,000 housing units across the country.

Mattin said individual communities must also step up to the plate to determine its own housing needs, develop a plan to deal with them and be prepared to take advantage of funding opportunities from senior levels of government when they become available.

“We didn’t get into this situation overnight and, in the meantime, people are suffering,” she said. “We all want to see people housed as soon as possible, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

What’s situation in your region?

The Canadian Rental Housing Index provides a detailed analysis of the affordability and suitability of rental housing for various income groups in more than 800 municipalities and regions. Here are some of the statistics for Vancouver Island for 2016-17.

Victoria

• Percentage of households that rent- 34

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $985

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities- 25

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 47

• Rental demand forecast- 4028 new rental units required by 2021

Cowichan Valley:

• Percentage of households that rent-18

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $853

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities- 26

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 52

• Rental demand forecast- 1092 new rental units required by 2021

Nanaimo

• Percentage of households that rent- 22

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $900

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities- 26

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 53

• Rental demand forecast- 2,771 new rental units required by 2021

Alberni-Clayoquot

• Percentage of households that rent- 27

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $717

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities-23

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 47

• Rental demand forecast- 0 new rental units required by 2021

Comox Valley

• Percentage of households that rent- 21

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $871

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities- 24

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 52

• Rental demand forecast- 6,898 new rental units required by 2021

B.C.

• Percentage of households that rent- 29

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $988

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities- 24

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 45

Canada

• Percentage of households that rent- 30

• Average amount of rent and utilities- $848

• Average percentage of income spent on rent and utilities- 22

• Percentage of renters spending more than 30 per cent- 40

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