Start with an ageing housing stock and deteriorating housing conditions. Add shock evictions, growing waitlists, and negligent landlords. Throw in renovictions and gentrification creeping into almost every corner of the city. On top of that, add run-of-the-mill rent increases for people earning stagnant wages, expiries of operating agreements for non-profit housing providers and co-ops, and a precipitous decline in the number of non-market housing units in British Columbia. Top it off with over-capacity shelters and shelter closures, single mothers in the streets, and shelters that won’t take in families. This is where we’re at in British Columbia. These are the ingredients for a world class housing crisis.
British Columbians are by now familiar with hearing that their housing costs are the highest in the world. Any way you look at it, BC is experience the worst housing crisis in its history. When the former UN Rapporteur on Housing visited Vancouver last year, he observed that “not much has changed” since his previous visit in 2007 when he declared a national emergency in the state of housing and homelessness. These conditions have inspired a Social Housing Coalition and even acts of civil disobedience. Most notably, a resident has been on hunger strike since March 22nd to stop gentrification and draw attention to housing rights in the Downtown Eastside.
And for good reason. We’ve gone astray. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including…housing.” And yet, at any given moment in British Columbia, thousands of people are on the verge of eviction and personal bankruptcy. Household debt is higher in Canada than it has ever been, reaching 163% earlier this year. While corporate taxes are rock-bottom after ten years of BC Liberal tax cuts, BC has the highest consumer debt in the country. Services have been slashed and austerity measures have made it all but impossible for the average person to expect stability in the event that they’re laid off or evicted from the increasingly-precarious market housing.