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British Columbia Affordability crisis reaches Vancouver suburbs, report finds, increasing threat of homelessness

An affordability crisis that forced many renters out of Vancouver has followed them to the suburbs, where soaring rents and dwindling vacancy rates have led to a growing threat of homelessness, according to a new report.

The joint study between the University of British Columbia and the Union Gospel Mission found rental housing has followed a trajectory similar to that of single-family detached house sales.

“[The] report shows that cities that were once seen as an affordable oasis are quickly sinking in high rents and low vacancy," UGM spokesman Jeremy Hunka said at a news conference on Thursday. "And while nobody is immune, it’s absolutely hammering low-income families and women.”

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Jesse Kirkpatrick and Jackie Myerion are photographed in CRAB Park, where they lived in a tent with their two young children for a month, in Vancouver, Oct. 11, 2018.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The report highlighted Surrey and Burnaby as having experienced the most striking changes. Between 2012 and 2017, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in Surrey increased by 23 per cent, to $1,076 from $887. In Burnaby, it increased by 21 per cent, to $1,387 from $1,124.

Meanwhile, vacancy rates for two-bedroom units over the same period dropped to 0.7 per cent from 6.5 per cent in Surrey; and to 0.8 per cent from 2.8 per cent in Burnaby.

For two-bedroom apartments at the low end of the market (between $750 and $999), there was an average vacancy rate of zero per cent last year within Vancouver and 1.1 per cent across the region.

Co-author Penny Gurstein, from UBC’s School for Community and Regional Planning, said this trend, which has been observed over several years, has now reached a boiling point.

“Before, you could go into other communities, like Surrey and Burnaby and New Westminster, and find potentially affordable housing. Now, the vacancy rates, as the report shows, are really low in those communities. There really isn’t the kind of housing that is needed to fit the population.”

The report also noted the number of applicants on the B.C. Housing Registry has increased by 32 per cent across B.C. since 2014, that 61 per cent of families on the registry are led by single-parents and that about 87 per cent of these families are female-led. As of March 31, there were more than 4,000 families within Metro Vancouver on the housing registry.

A couple at Thursday’s news conference, Jesse Kirkpatrick and Jackie Myerion, were living in a two-bedroom basement suite in Surrey with their two young children when their landlord asked them to move out so a family member could move in. They had one month’s notice.

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“We were looking daily for houses to have a place to live,” said Mr. Kirkpatrick, who works in manual labour. “I stopped work just so we could try to do that. But we couldn’t find anything at all.”

The family relocated to Vancouver, where Ms. Myerion and their children stayed with Ms. Myerion’s mother and Mr. Kirkpatrick stayed in a shelter temporarily. They then regrouped, setting up a tent at an East Vancouver park. The couple was stressed and scared; the children thought the family was camping.

They eventually connected with UGM and now live in an affordable housing complex in Surrey.

Mr. Hunka called the idea of homeless children devastating.

“Their situation is a little bit rare, but not as rare as we’d like it to be,” he said. “They were camping next to another family.”

The report authors urged voters to head to the polls next week with affordability and homelessness in mind. Dr. Gurstein noted partnerships between municipal and provincial governments are key, with cities providing land, timely approval processes and community amenity contributions.

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