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Fewer Canadians live in unaffordable housing, but issues remain for some

Challenges still remain for vulnerable groups when it comes to household affordability, according to a new Statistics Canada report.
Data from the Canadian Housing Survey outlines the housing situations for those in Canada's 10 provinces.

Despite fewer households in Canada’s 10 province’s living in unaffordable housing, there still remain significant challenges for vulnerable groups. 

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, household shelter costs rose seven per cent since 2018. B.C. saw the most increases, 13.6 per cent, in costs such as rent, mortgages, utilities and property taxes. 

In addition, prices for homes rose 20.6 per cent from 2018 to 2021. 

“Even with higher housing costs, the share of households that spent 30 per cent or more of their income on housing — a key measure of affordability — declined from 22 per cent in 2018 to 19.5 per cent in 2021,” said the study. 

Rises in cost are felt most harshly by vulnerable populations like lone seniors and racialized groups.

Data indicates that a senior renter living alone is more likely (49 per cent) to be in unaffordable housing than a senior who owns their home (18.8 per cent). The report also indicates that households led by Black persons are most likely to experience economic difficulty. Forty per cent of those households reported economic hardship with two-thirds reporting COVID-19 as the primary reason. 

Many households also stayed on the social and affordable housing waitlist for significant periods. For those on a waitlist, 148,000 households reported waiting for two years or longer compared to 76,000 who had to wait less, representing twice as many. 

However, core housing needs decreased in all 10 provinces in 2021 with 1.4 million compared to 1.6 million in 2018. Statistics Canada says that households are in core need when they live in “unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable dwellings.” 

According to Dr. Thomas Davidoff, an associate professor and director of the UBC's Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, rethinking zoning may be the key for vulnerable populations to access adequate housing.

“It's so profitable to build homes that the only thing that's stopping people is zoning,” Davidoff said. “So if you loosen zoning, and take money from the developer in exchange for that, and then take the money and give it to low-income people, that's a real win for renters.”

Young British Columbians will not be surprised to hear that younger populations reported decreasing satisfaction with housing affordability. For owners who made a move between 2018 and 2021, their levels of satisfaction were lower in B.C. (44 per cent) than Atlantic provinces who ranged at about 57 per cent. 

“Among young adult-led households, 60 per cent reported being satisfied with dwelling affordability, whereas 80 per cent of households led by seniors were satisfied,” stated the Statistics Canada report.

Renters are also more likely to report dissatisfaction with their dwelling and neighbourhood. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, twice as many renters indicated they were less satisfied with their living situation. 

“I talk to students all the time, and they're really stressed out about the high cost of housing. You know, even very advanced and together business students who have great earnings prospects are concerned that they're never going to be able to afford a nice home,” Davidoff said.