Note: Please take this commentary with a grain of salt—the narrative is limited due to a lack of relevant evidence.
Thought to have arisen from governmental decisions made around 50 years ago, the housing crisis
in BC has continued to spiral.
You’ve probably heard stories of people, including post-secondary students, living in unconventional ways to get by. Daniel Drury, a student at UVic struggling to find housing, lived in a van. He would park on campus during the day and elsewhere to spend the night. While Drury viewed his van life “more as an economic opportunity than a hardship,” that was not the case for Rob Bulmer, a Camosun College student who also could not find housing. He opted to live in a tent here and there to continue his studies.
Certainly, the housing issue greatly impacts students, and maybe you’ve been wondering how this came to be.
Read on to gain perspective on where we’re at in the crisis—and a theory of how it started.
Need for affordable housing
According to the BC government, housing can be deemed as affordable “if it costs no more than 30% of household income before taxes.” And according to a recent report, the average monthly rent of an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment in Metro Vancouver is $2,251. From that numbers, we can estimate that the average renter needs to earn more than $7,000 each month for that housing to be affordable for them. But how many students earn that amount? Even if they do, there are also tuition and other costs of living to worry about as the prices of gas and groceries crawl upward.
Yet the issue isn’t just about finding affordable housing—it’s also about finding housing at all, considering that the vacancy rate in Vancouver shrank to 0.9% last year (from 1.2% the year before that). Clearly, more residences should be built to remediate those problems, growing the supply of rental units and possibly helping to bring down the rent.
And that’s why housing expansion projects at post-secondary institutions are so exciting. Currently under construction, the Tall Timber Student Housing will open at the BCIT Burnaby campus in the fall of 2024, expected to fill 470 students. (It’ll be the newest housing to be offered there since 1984!)
But how effectively the availability of this new housing will mitigate the housing crisis remains unclear, since student housing has self-reported to “always receive more applications than rooms available.” Plus, BCIT has more than 18,000 full-time students enrolling annually.
So how did this crisis all start?
It may be traced to decisions made by The Electors Action Movement (TEAM) in the 1970s, the political party that governed Vancouver at the time. In hindsight, one of their most influential decisions was to reduce single-room occupancy (SRO) housing in the city, with higher-occupancy housing taking its place. This meant that the people previously living in SRO housing back then had to compete for new places to live, and this heightened demand contributed to a massive rise in housing costs.
As a sidenote: A number of the dispossessed households sought refuge in the free housing provided by the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (a non-profit organization), effectively congregating in one single location, forming the Downtown Eastside you might be aware of. And all this was carried out despite warnings from industry experts, who predicted a surge in housing costs (and they were right).
The BC housing crisis is a complicated issue that’s still snowballing today, with experts continuing to seek ways to untangle and remedy the mess. That is because the longer the issue persists, the more complex it gets. But many things have changed between the 1970s and the 2020s, and perhaps the solution will soon emerge (significantly increasing the supply of housing might be the place to start).
Note: The housing crisis is a controversial topic. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like o write a response.
“Consumer Price Index, October 2022,” November 16, 2022. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/221116/dq221116a-eng.htm.
“Defining Affordable Housing.” Province of British Columbia, February 19, 2018. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/affordable-and-social-housing/afffordable-housing/defining-affordable-housing.
“Governments Alone Cannot Fix Canada’s Housing Affordability Challenges.” CMHC, 2022. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/blog/2022/governments-alone-cannot-fix-canadas-housing-affordability-challenges.
Johnson, Missy, and David P. Ball. Some Students in Victoria Are Riding out the Rental Crisis by Camping out Full-Time.” CBC, April 3, 2022. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/student-housing-vancouver-island-post-secondary-institutions-1.6404404.
Lewis, Nate. “BCIT Development to Increase Housing Options for Students: BCIT News.” BCIT News | Broadcast and Online Journalism, March 25, 2022. https://bcitnews.com/2022/03/25/bcit-development-to-increase-housing-options-for-students/.
“Long-Stay Housing.” BCIT. Accessed February 21, 2023. https://www.bcit.ca/housing/long-stay/.
Park, Greg. February 2023 Metro Vancouver Rent Report. Liv Rent, February 3, 2023. https://liv.rent/blog/2023/02/february-2023-metro-vancouver-rent-report/.
“Quick Facts.” BCIT. Accessed February 6, 2023. https://www.bcit.ca/about/leadership-vision/quick-facts/.
“Rental Supply Increases but Demand Surges.” CMHC. Accessed February 22, 2023. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/blog/2023/rental-supply-increases-but-demand-surges.
Sullivan, Sam. “The Team Era.” Kumtuks, January 22, 2022. https://kumtuks.ca/the-team-era/.
“Tall Timber Student Housing.” BCIT. Accessed February 6, 2023. https://www.bcit.ca/campus-plan/tall-timber-student-housing/.
The TEAM Era: Vancouver Development History Part IV 1973 – Present. YouTube, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdIxso8Gk-0.