Greater Victoria residents often hear about affordable housing, but few have a good idea of what that means.
Even BC Housing has a hard time defining it; on its website, affordable housing is defined as “housing with rents equal, or lower than, average rates in the private market.”
While average rental rates are largely unaffordable, BC Housing regional director of operations of Vancouver Island, Heidi Hartman, explained this definition is based on delayed calculations from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation which determines what rates should be.
“The numbers from the CMHC are typically about a year behind,” Hartman said. “So, the rates are usually lower than what it actually is.”
Still, Hartman said affordable housing is hard to define, mostly because it’s more of a loose label rather than a concrete idea.
“Affordable housing is a term where subsidized housing has more to do with a program,” said Hartman, “It’s more a definition of when housing costs aren’t more than 30 per cent of a household’s gross income.”
This means rent is determined on a sliding scale based on income, which means two neighbours living in similar units will pay different rents.
“For example, folks at Evergreen Terrace will pay 30 per cent,” Hartman said. “One person makes $24,000 per year and pays 30 per cent, and for somebody that’s making $40,000, it’ll also be 30 per cent.”
Every year BC Housing has annual income testing is done to see if this rate needs to change based on promotions, demotions or a change in assets.
“They’d provide their pay stubs and we’d calculate the rent rate,” Hartman said.
This is similar, but different, to subsidized housing, which always sits at 30 per cent of income, but where the province interjects with further funding which allows residents receiving income assistance to pay a flat rate. This can be seen in subsidized housing units from the Cool Aid Society, Pacifica Housing and some co-operative housing complexes.
In November the province announced $492 million in funding for affordable housing projects in 42 communites across the province. This will include 588 units in Victoria, 85 in Saanich, 80 in Langford and 161 in Esquimalt.
Projects built under the Building BC: Community Housing Fund will reflect three different income levels.
Twenty per cent of units will be those with low incomes who need subsidization, such as seniors, people on fixed incomes or those on income assistance. The income limit will be $30,000, depending on unit size.
Fifty per cent of units will range from low-to-moderate incomes, which range from $21,000 to $95,000, with the range limited by specific location and unit size. This means the low-to-moderate income bracket would cap at $58,000 for a two-bedroom in Vancouver for example, while it would cap at $37,000 in Smithers.
Thirty per cent of units will be for middle incomes, for up to $72,000 for homes with less than two bedrooms, or up to $104,000 for homes with two bedrooms or more.
According to the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index, one-in-five British Columbians pay more than 50 per cent of their income on rent.