City staff’s first “report card” on its housing and homelessness strategy received praise from city council Tuesday.
But despite the gains in rental housing and fewer people living on the street, there has been a significant increase in the amount of rent tenants are paying in privately owned single-room occupancy hotels.
The city’s report card, delivered by Abigail Bond of the city’s housing department, revealed that only 24 per cent of the private low-income hotels are rented at the welfare rate of $375 per month. In 2009, when the city conducted a survey of rents in the hotels, 36 per cent of them were renting at $375 per month. Others are paying $400 or more.
“It’s because it costs a lot of money to run these buildings,” said Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, who spoke to the Courier after Tuesday’s meeting. “[The owner] doesn’t want to rent to people who can only afford $375. The overhead costs of owners, I think, is what’s driving this.”
When asked what the city can do about the problem, Jang deferred to the provincial government, saying welfare rates and housing allowances haven’t increased in many years.
The higher rents at private hotels are in contrast to what tenants are paying in non-market hotels, more than 20 of which are owned by the provincial government. The report said an estimated 95 per cent of 2,100 units in the hotels are renting at the welfare rate.
Monthly rents set above the welfare rate come as the number of private hotels have decreased substantially in the city. In 1993, there were 7,767 units owned privately and 3,604 considered non-market.
In 2013, private units dropped to 4,484 while non-market units increased to 7,642 for a total number of 12,126 units.
The city’s goal is to have 300 new units built by 2014. So far, the city has 202 units, or 67 per cent of its target, under construction or in development. The report also included homeless numbers released previously from the city’s 2012 homeless count, which showed 306 people were counted last March as sleeping on the street. Another 1,296 were counted living in some form of shelter.
The city will conduct its 2013 homeless count next month. The city’s homeless advocate, Judy Graves, told the Courier last week that she is anticipating fewer people living on the street.
She credited more social housing and shelter space as reasons for the possible decrease. Council heard Tuesday that Surrey’s street homeless population is higher than in Vancouver.
But Jang said he didn’t believe Surrey’s increase in its homeless population is simply people leaving Vancouver for the suburban municipality. During the city’s homeless counts, people are asked where they consider home and have they moved recently, Jang added.