B.C. renters spending ‘crisis’ amounts on rent and utilities, says housing index

Photo credit: Nicholas Pescod

British Columbia has the highest proportion of households spending more than 50 per cent of income on rent and utilities, according to the Canadian Rental Housing Index.

This week the index released new statistics using 2021 Canadian Census data, which found 16 per cent of renters in B.C. spent more than half their before-tax income on rent and utilities between 2016 and 2021 — the highest of any province or territory.

“When you’re spending more than 50 per cent on rent, it means you’re forgoing other necessities,” BC Non-Profit Housing Association CEO Jill Atkey told CHEK News.

However, according to the index’s online map, this is a decrease from the 2016 census, when 21 per cent of renters in both B.C. and Ontario were overspending.

On Vancouver Island, 2021 data shows 16 per cent of residents in the Capital Regional District fell into this category, compared to 15 per cent in Nanaimo, 14 per cent in the Comox Valley, 12 per cent in the Cowichan Valley, Alberni-Clayoquot and Strathcona, which includes Campbell River, and seven per cent in Mount Waddington.

Victoria’s Ashleigh Smith and Alex MacDonald lived in a hostel for half a year while trying to find a home they could afford. The couple, both 28, is now squeezed into a studio apartment with 50 to 60 per cent of their income going toward rent.

“We can barely afford to eat,” said Smith. “We both have jobs, our money isn’t going anywhere else other than food and rent, and we still have to use food banks.”

Douglas King from the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) says the housing crisis goes “much more deeper” than what people see on the street.

“Landlords know they can ask for hundreds above the average rent,” said King. “So we keep seeing that upwards pressure, and we’re not going to see it stop until the province steps in and tells developers or landlords you can’t keep charging this much for rent.

“It’s killing our province.”


Average rent in B.C., meanwhile, increased 30 per cent during those five years.

Census data from 2021 shows the average monthly cost of rent and utilities, including heat, hot water and electricity, across the province was more than $2,100, compared to $1,148 in 2016.

The data also shows B.C. residents with an annual household income of up to $36,000 paid an average rent price of $1,182 per month, whereas households with incomes up to $63,200 and $102,000 paid $1,450 and $1,702, respectively.

“The hundreds of thousands of renters struggling to get by in today’s crushing rental markets expect all levels of government and industry stakeholders to work together to solve this crisis,” added Atkey in a release.

“This stark reality demands our attention and concerted efforts,” added Ray Sullivan, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association executive director.

“We cannot ignore the significant proportion of renter households burdened with unaffordable housing expenses, putting them at an increased risk of homelessness if they are forced to leave their home.”

Eleven per cent of renters in B.C. also lived in overcrowded conditions, meaning their units were unsuitable for their household size based on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s National Occupancy Standard.

For example, in Oak Bay, View Royal, Sidney and Sooke, five per cent of renters were in these conditions, compared to eight per cent in Victoria, Saanich, Central Saanich and Colwood and 10 per cent in Langford.

All the data can be found here.

(Photo: Canadian Rental Housing Index)

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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