Province ignores need for new social housing, diverts federal dollars to health care

August 25, 2004
(Vancouver) The provincial government is playing a shell game with social housing in BC, diverting $89 million in federal funds earmarked for new social housing into assisted living spaces in the health care system, according to a new report.

Home Insecurity: The State of Social Housing in BC was released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Tenants' Rights Action Coalition. The report finds that the provincial government is abandoning its long-standing commitment to build new social housing, focusing instead on assisted living for the elderly and people with disabilities. In addition to diverting federal funds, the province is converting part of the existing social housing stock into assisted living spaces in order to meet its promises in health care.

"The government is playing fast and loose with the numbers, counting the same units as assisted living, long-term care, and social housing" says John Irwin, author of the report and a researcher with the CCPA. "Assisted living is an important part of the health care system, but it is not social housing. This is a fundamental shift away from providing housing for people in economic need."

Irwin says the government's actions are cost-cutting gone wrong. "We're not saving money by putting an end to new social housing. We're just setting ourselves up for more costs down the road," says Irwin, pointing to the government's own research. A 2001 provincial government-sponsored study found that the costs of service and shelter for homeless people ranged from $30,000 to $40,000 per year, compared to $22,000 to $28,000 for housed individuals (including the cost of providing housing).

The report says that if the $89 million in federal funds were properly allocated, it could create up to 2,500 new social housing units in BC. New social housing units are needed to meet rising demand--the waiting list for social housing in BC has risen over the past two years, after declining slightly during the 1990s.

Changes to the Residential Tenancy Act allow landlords to make significant increases in rent, which the report says could further increase the demand for social housing. "Thousands of people cannot afford market rents as it is," says Irwin. Roughly 65,000 BC households are in "deep core housing need," spending more than 50% of their income on rent.


To arrange an interview with John Irwin, call Shannon Daub at 604-801-5121, ext. 226.

This report was produced with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).