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No Vacancy: Homelessness and Affordability in Metro Vancouver – FAQ

Seen our video at http://www.ugm.ca/affordability? Have some questions? Take a read through this FAQ.

Is this a true story?

Many of our guests are at low points and don’t want to appear on film talking about their housing experiences. In order to portray a renoviction and slide into homelessness, we created a composite character and used an actor. While this particular actor was not renovicted as far as we know, there are many people who are, and whose stories are very similar to the one in the video.

Where did you get your stats?

You can find all the stats and sources in the data supplement link here: www.ugm.ca/affordability. We got our stats from custom data requests to BC Housing, Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, and Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. We also used several reputable web tools to determine after-tax income and other calculations. These are also all available in the end-notes of the report at www.ugm.ca/affordability.

Are you saying  that affordability causes homelessness? Isn’t homelessness really caused by addiction/trauma/socio-cultural factors/marginalization/etc.?

We are claiming that affordability is a key structural factor that causes homelessness. Put another way, the lack of affordable housing creates an atmosphere where personal circumstances (such as financial emergency, health crisis, fleeing violence or severe addiction) are much more likely to lead to homelessness. If struggling with mental health or addiction is like not knowing how to swim, struggling with these things in an unaffordable city is like being thrown in the deep end.

In the report we say that homelessness is a result of three factors: personal circumstances (e.g. fleeing from domestic violence), systemic failures (e.g. being ejected from the hospital or foster care without a home), and structural factors (e.g. affordability). While it is critical to address personal circumstances and systemic failures, structural factors are important and often overlooked.

Do people really find themselves homeless after a renoviction?

Yes. While the video has limited time to tell a very complicated story, in most cases the process of going from housed to homeless has several stages. After a renoviction, many people are able to find housing in other cities or even within Vancouver. But many others couch surf with friends or family, spend a few nights in their car or in a cheap hotel before coming to stay at a place like the UGM shelter, becoming ‘homeless’.
How did you calculate the lead character’s budget?

As detailed in the “Income” section of the report, we used taxtips.ca monthly income calculator. This includes deductions for federal and provinces taxes, plus CPP and EI contributions. It does not include payroll deductions that are common in some industries, such as health & dental insurance, RRSP, long-term disability insurance, life insurance, etc. This means that some people may technically make more, and take home less.

How can I help?

While affordability and homelessness are complicated issues, the good news is that we can all do something. You can communicate with local decision-makers to request more new funding for social housing and rent supplements. Sign a petition to raise income assistance rates, which have not substantially changed in 9 years: https://www.change.org/p/christy-clark-raise-social-assistance-rates-in-bc. If you have unused space, consider whether renting it out is the right move. We always welcome donations and volunteer involvement at Union Gospel Mission.

Why doesn’t the lead character just get a roommate? What about his family? Why doesn’t he just work two jobs?

It is true that people who have a strong support network, helpful family, or the ability to get a roommate are much less likely to become homeless. A “higher functioning” person who can work longer days or for higher pay is more likely to find and secure a place. But imagine that the character in the video has a mental illness (such as severe social anxiety) and is new in town, and you can suddenly understand how he is squeezed out of the severe competition for a scarce number of affordable units. At Union Gospel Mission, we have noticed that people who become homeless typically have multiple barriers to finding suitable housing. Some have great, supportive families, but are in severe addiction and mental illness and have “burned their bridges.” Others have no addiction issues at all, but have no family or friends in the area, and limited employment skills. If average rent was much lower and vacancy much higher, many of these people wouldn’t be homeless. However, the affordability crisis creates an atmosphere where just one or two complicating factors can lead to homelessness.

Why is UGM involved in this?

Union Gospel Mission, like many social services, relies on housing as part of our continuum of care. Over the last year, we’ve noticed a growing shortage of affordable and/or subsidized housing for our guests. For example, when a person graduates from our drug and alcohol recovery program, their options to move on are extremely limited. A growing number of people accessing our food services

have jobs, but eat with us so they can save money on food to pay for rent. Our shelter guests can’t find homes, and many of our housed guests are one paycheque or income assistance payment

away from homelessness. As UGM adapts to this new reality, we want to understand and spread awareness of the structural factors which are leading to homelessness.

Don’t landlords have to pay tenants who are asked to leave due to renovations?

Legal information can be found on the government of BC website. A simplified, non-legal version is that landlords may evict a tenant by giving two months’ notice, as long as the landlord intends to either live in the property themselves (or have their family live there), make major renovations, or sell the property. Less notice is required if the tenant hasn’t paid rent or if there is another cause for eviction.  While two months may seem like plenty of time to find a new residence, extremely low vacancy rates for low-end-of-market units means that many people won’t find a new place to live in time. The high turnover of units due to “renovictions” also drives up rent (as landlords may increase rent for the next renter as much as they like).

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