Rental Housing Crisis in Victoria

By V. Adams

Originally published in The Volcano

Rental Housing Crisis in Victoria

With a vacancy rate approaching zero, a fast dwindling rental housing stock, and low interest rates encouraging the growth of luxury condominium developments catering to babyboomer retirees and investors, renters (who represent 59% of all households in Victoria), are facing a housing crisis.

James Bay, the oldest and once the poorest neighborhood in the city, has a population of 12,000 residents, of whom 69% are tenant households. Twenty-nine percent of the population (3,235) is over 65 years of age. Many live in apartments, condos, and in the 10 long-term care and independent/assisted living residences in the neighborhood.

Working people, couples who have sold their home and prefer maintenance-free living, and seniors living alone on fixed incomes, represent the typical households who live in the market rental units in James Bay.  Approximately 4.8% of residents, predominantly low-income families, currently reside in subsidized rental housing.

The average James Bay renter household income is $46,346, and the average monthly rent and utilities bill is $981. Fifty percent of renter households (2,310) spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing, while 26% of tenant households (1,285) spend more than 50% of their pre-tax income on shelter.

Since early this past January, four well-attended neighbourhood meetings have been held to address a potential renoviction housing crisis in James Bay. Currently more than 600 James Bay tenants face displacement and/or significant rent increases due to renovations being undertaken by the new owner of their apartments, Starlight Investments.

This multi-billion dollar global real estate corporation recently spent several hundred million dollars to acquire key multi-storey apartment complexes in the Lower Mainland and in Victoria. In 2014/15, Starlight Investments spent over $100 million to acquire 6 multi-storey apartment blocks, comprising more than 16 per cent of the total rental housing stock in James Bay. To put this in perspective, this corporation purchased the equivalent of what Victoria taxpayers are now shelling out for the new Johnson Street Bridge.

The growing wave of displaced renters may soon have no choice but to join the swelling ranks of the un-housed members of society. Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in order for all parties to work together to solve this most pressing social issue?