Social housing reality check

Ministry’s own service plans show few net new units since 2006
September 13, 2010

(Vancouver) A new report shows that despite some positive recent developments on rental assistance and homelessness, BC’s progress in building new social housing units has been minimal.

Unpacking the Housing Numbers: How Much New Social Housing is BC Building? is being released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Social Planning and Research Council of BC. The authors conducted a detailed examination of BC Housing’s service plans for 2006 to 2011.

The report finds that while the number of households assisted by provincial housing programs increased by 11,530 since 2006, most of this assistance does not represent actual new social housing units. Of the 11,530 additional households assisted:

  • 63% (7,270 households) represents rental assistance to families through the Rental Assistance Program, while another 1,010 are individuals assisted through the Homeless Rent Supplement.
  • Another 1,420 of the total increase are new emergency shelter beds (not housing units).
  • 1,550 of the “new” supportive housing units for homeless people with mental health and addiction problems are in purchased SRO hotels (renovations/replacements of existing housing rather than additional low-income housing supply). 
  • While there has been growth in some types of social housing, in particular supportive housing for the homeless and housing for frail seniors, there has been a larger decrease in traditional low-income housing units.

In fact, the government’s own data indicate an overall net increase of only 280 new housing units over the past five years, a sobering and concerning finding.

“The province has developed some good initiatives to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing,” says Lorraine Copas, Executive Director of the Social Planning and Research Council (SPARC), and co-author of the study. “Unfortunately, the numbers show us that more is needed.”

Jean Swanson, with Vancouver’s Carnegie Community Action Project, welcomes the report. “Working in the Downtown Eastside I can see that hundreds of people are homeless in spite of government announcements and re-announcements of social housing. This report tells us the real numbers and validates our call for more social housing for low-income people.”

“Between the mid 1970s and early 1990s, with the help of the federal government, BC created 1,000 to 1,500 new units of social housing per year,” says Seth Klein, co-author of the report. “Based on government figures, we calculate that BC could build 2,000 units of housing per year for about $500 million. To me, that seems like a pretty affordable price for ending the homeless crisis in our society.”


For information or interviews with the authors, contact Sarah Leavitt at [email protected] or 604-801-5121 x233.