With house prices soaring and rents on the rise, struggling renters in qathet region whose landlords have decided to sell or conduct renovations are struggling to find alternative housing at affordable rates, a local support worker warns.
Last week, the Peak spoke with two renters facing homelessness due to the lack of local affordable housing options. The problems they described, and other hardships, are well known to Carlie Tarlier, who works as a homeless prevention outreach worker for Lift Community Services to support those who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
According to Tarlier, a major problem faced by renters is the booming housing market motivating some landlords to sell, forcing tenants who entered rental agreements years ago (when rents were lower) to either move into significantly more expensive units or figure out alternative accommodation.
“There’s been so many different scenarios, people selling out from under them, giving them notice, but with the market so high everyone wants to get their cut, which I get, but it finds a renter homeless, because there’s nowhere for them to go,” said Tarlier. “The likelihood is that this renter has been in a rental for an extended period of time, and the rental market has absolutely skyrocketed.”
Tarlier is a renter herself, and said her family moved out of a rental unit 18 months ago that they had lived in for four years, paying $1,350 per month by the time they left. She said the same unit was recently rented out to a new tenant for approximately $2,000 per month.
Tarlier said she has a positive relationship with her current landlord. However, despite both Tarlier and her husband working full time, she fears what would happen if her family had to move again.
“I have a family of six, my husband is a professional, I’m a professional,” she added. “If all of a sudden my landlord decided to sell my home, I don’t know how we would do it.”
For those on disability and income support, Tarlier said the provincial government’s temporary $300 per month increase in payments last year provided significant aid during hard times. However, the province cut the payment in half last December, before replacing it with a permanent $175 increase in April.
Another issue, Tarlier explained, is landlords kicking out tenants through “renovictions” when a property owner evicts a tenant because they want to renovate the unit. The problem, advocates and policymakers across the province say, is that some landlords abuse renovictions primarily as an excuse to increase rents (while conducting only minimal renovations), thus worsening the housing crisis.
The provincial government announced anti-renoviction reforms last March, but housing advocates have criticized the proposals for not going far enough, and say landlords will still be able to use renovations as an excuse to kick out renters.
As well, the BC government extended a provincial rent freeze until December 31, 2021. However, if renters leave, landlords can still hike rents.
Tarlier said all these factors mean otherwise typical disputes between landlords and renters take on much higher stakes, because now renters find there are simply no realistic housing options available to them if they have to leave.
“There is also that side of the coin, too, where landlords have found themselves in situations where they are paying for damages that obviously a damage deposit doesn’t cover,” noted Tarlier. However, she added, “because of the housing crisis, folks who have to leave have nowhere to go, so as much as I want to feel sorry for the landlord, too, I give out tents and sleeping bags to typical folks who are on some form of assistance, whether it’s people with disability or pensions.”
Besides those forced to sleep in tents, Tarlier said affordability challenges push others into hidden homelessness.
“It’s folks sleeping on their buddy’s couch because they don’t have any other options,” she added, “or a teenager hiding their friend in their home because they can’t go home, but they can’t get a place.”
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, who is also provincial minister of poverty reduction and social development, said he is aware of ongoing challenges faced by renters in the region, and pointed to measures aimed at alleviating the housing crisis.
“It’s much more challenging now than it has been, and many of the initiatives that government is taking, whether it’s the ministry of housing or other efforts in other areas, some policy and capital investments are intended to address these exact kinds of circumstances,” said Simons. “I recognize that it’s ongoing, despite some very positive government actions. I recognize that more efforts have to continue.”
Simons pointed to the province’s recently announced $2 billion investment in the BC HousingHub to finance construction of homes for middle-income families, and the supportive housing complex on Joyce Avenue, completed in 2019. Simons also hopes the province’s anti-renoviction reforms will ultimately reduce the number of renters forced to move because of renovations.
“We are playing catch-up from lack of action in previous governments, but that simply motivates us to work faster,” he added.
Calls for city, province to do more
Tarlier said the community recently stepped up to provide support for those in need. For example, she said a stroller and car seat were recently donated via a local Facebook page to a low-income woman who needed it.
“The look on this woman’s face, it changed her life, that moment did, because I just surprised her with it,” added Tarlier. “When our community comes together, we really do change people’s lives.”
However, Tarlier said she believes the city and provincial governments need to do more.
Last September, BC Housing announced construction was underway for 42 “affordable” rental units on Ontario Avenue. While this development is welcome, Tarlier said rents for the units range from $765 for a one bedroom to $951 for a three-bedroom, which is more than those on low incomes can afford.
“When you address the super-vulnerable population, folks who live with substance use disorder, when you address that issue and are able to really house and create support systems for that, then you can also create other housing for other folks, and it’s got to be recognized as the crisis in qathet region that it really, truly is,” explained Tarlier. “It’s a basic human right, and society has forgotten that. Everybody deserves a house, a home.”
Next week, the Peak will speak to City of Powell River representatives about local measures aimed at addressing the housing crisis.