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#RethinkHousing

The housing crisis affects all of us. You can’t read the news these days without something coming up about housing affordability and homelessness in BC.

A recent study found that 4 out of the 5 least affordable cities for home ownership in Canada are in BC. And the situation is far worse for renters – we’ve been hearing stories from people facing evictions in Vancouver, Burnaby, Prince Rupert, Kelowna and in communities across the province.

Homeless camps have formed to create safety and community in Abbotsford, Maple Ridge and Victoria but they’re constantly under threat from eviction without any stable housing being provided.


UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

In March, Canada was under review before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This International Covenant, which Canada ratified 40 years ago, includes the right to an adequate standard of housing. Yet, Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy.

This was an exciting opportunity to put Canada’s issues on the international stage to bring attention to what’s happening here. So, as part of the review, we collaborated with Canada without Poverty (CWP) and other groups across Canada to submit a report to the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the CWP team flew to Geneva to present it.

DJ Larkin from PIVOT Legal Society also made a submission, saying Canada’s failure to pursue a national housing program has led to the ongoing criminalization and displacement of homeless people.

Leilani Farha, the Executive Director of CWP and now the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, presented her report on adequate housing to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday. She got international media attention with a great piece in the UK Guardian, “We can’t talk about inequality without talking about homelessness.”

The committee made a wide variety of recommendations including recommendations on Right to Housing (including progressively increasing federal and provincial resources allocated to housing), homelessness (including adopting a national strategy on homelessness), adequate standard of living (including intensifying efforts to address indigenous peoples’ housing crisis, in consultations with indigenous governments and organizations), and housing for persons with disabilities (including integrating a disability perspective in all housing plans and policies at all levels).

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Making Poverty Visible

At the Vancouver Public Library from February 29 until March 13, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition displayed flags collected from around the province to show that poverty affects all our communities in BC. The exhibit launched with local story-tellers at the Vancouver Public Library and tables where visitors to the library could make their own flag. Click through the slideshow below to see some of these flags that centre housing.


Within Canada, BC has the worst record of housing affordability. Check out the fantastic Rental Housing Index brought to you by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association in partnership with Vancity to find out more about the housing affordability of your neighbourhood.2015-BChomelessness

Homelessness is a significant issue in BC. There are approximately 2770 homeless people in Metro Vancouver and an estimated 15,000 homeless people across BC. However, homeless counts are under-estimates and only capture the tip of the iceberg, not telling the story of people couch-surfing or living in over-crowded houses.

In Still Dying on the Streets: Homeless Deaths in British Columbia, Megaphone Magazine found that at least 46 people died on the streets in B.C. in 2014–a 70 per cent increase from the year previous. The median age of death for a homeless person in BC is between 40 and 49 years, almost half the life expectancy of 76.4 years for the average British Columbian.


Get involved

We need to recommit to building thousands of new social housing units every year.

Email BC’s Housing Minister

Low incomes have not kept up with the increasing cost of housing in BC, whether income is from welfare or disability benefits or low-wage work, and we saw nothing to address this in the budget. The minimal increase of $77 to the disability rate, frozen at $906 for the last 9 years, is a completely inadequate response and the cut to the bus pass program of $45 per year is a huge blow to people’s mobility and social inclusion.

Sign the petition here: Raise the Rates, Leave Our Bus Pass Alone

Let your local MLA know that you’re concerned about these issues.

Get involved: Join our Poverty Free Action Team!

Find out more and get involved in the great work of the Alliance Against Displacement (AAD), Pivot Legal Society and Together Against Poverty Society, who have been working with the homeless camps in Maple Ridge, Abbotsford and Victoria, and ACORN BC and AAD, for their work with renters in Burnaby facing “demovictions.”

The Metro Vancouver Alliance is focusing on housing affordability on the North Shore right now and recently held a successful assembly with North Shore politicians.


Government Response

It wasn’t always like this. Until 1993, BC built about 2000 social housing units each year with the help of federal funding (1).

The government’s most recent announcement in the so-called “housing budget” included only $355 million to support the development of 2000 social housing units over the next 5 years. At a cost of $75 million per year, sales of new homes under $750,000 will now be exempt from the property transfer tax, but this will have little impact on housing affordability.

The government’s preferred housing policy, the rental assistance program, which provides market rental support is only available for working families with children. The threshold is also very low at $35,000 so it leaves out many of the people in desperate need in BC.

We need to recommit to building thousands of new social housing units every year.

 Solutions to the Housing Crisis

Focus on HousingLet’s get to the heart of the problem. Housing the homeless saves us money in the long-run and taking the housing pressure off low-income families puts more money in their pockets, which, in turn, boosts the local economy and improves our communities.

A housing plan needs to be part of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. BC is now the very last province to have a poverty reduction strategy.

The Mayor of Medicine Hat decided to tackle homelessness in his community by providing good, stable housing and he has now become “the Mayor who ended homelessness.” We hosted him last spring and this is what he had to say:

(1) “Housing budget? Not so much,” Marc Lee, CCPA Policy Note, February 17, 2016


#RethinkPoverty Calendar