Black communities consistently endure a disproportionate burden in securing safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable housing in Canada and are therefore at higher risk of experiencing homelessness. This blog post highlights systemic and interpersonal barriers to affordable housing and offers innovative solutions to securing housing of this nature for Black communities in Metro Vancouver and across Canada. It is based on an ongoing research project led by the Hogan’s Alley Society in partnership with the City of Vancouver, Wood Buffalo Strategy Group (WB Strategy), and BC Housing. This project is examining:
- The lived experiences of Black communities in accessing and maintaining equitable rental housing
- The affordable rental housing needs of Black communities
- The influence of government policies and practices on housing hardships
Through this project, we were able to develop innovative solutions to resolve Black communities’ unique housing challenges. We based this on both qualitative and quantitative research methods, including an online survey, interviews with key informants, a co-design workshop, a focus group, an analysis of multi-family acquisition data, custom tabulation of the 2016 and 2021 census, and a review of policies related to housing.
Black Communities and Housing Affordability
In British Columbia, the Black community comprises around 1.2% of the entire population, roughly 61,760 individuals, according to the 2021 census. Additionally, 52% of the total Black population in Canada resides in the private rental market. For more than a decade, Metro Vancouver has remained one of the most expensive rental markets in all of Canada, with an average one-bedroom apartment costing more than $2,500 to rent. In fact, both the City of Vancouver and Burnaby are among the top five most expensive markets in the country for a one-bedroom, at $2,596 and $2,450 respectively, as of January 2023.
Housing unaffordability is a factor in homelessness. Racial identity data was collected for the first time in the 2020 Point-in-Time count. This data revealed that Black people were found to be disproportionately represented among racialized groups experiencing homelessness. Similarly, in the recently released Homeless Count 2023, Black people (6%) were again overrepresented among other racialized groups.
However, little to no research has systematically examined the Metro Vancouver multi-family rental market to better understand how renters are prioritized under the National Housing Strategy (NHS), especially Black Canadians. This is the gap we sought to fill with our research, and our findings can be broken down into several categories: affordability, housing discrimination, forced moves, policies, eviction procedures, and findings from community engagement.
Affordability for Black Renters
According to people who work in the housing sector, rent prices in Metro Vancouver have reached an all-time high and show no signs of decreasing. Black renters face significant challenges when finding affordable and accessible housing. Due to the high rental rates in Metro Vancouver, compounded by historical and contemporary anti-Black systemic racism, Black Canadians are disproportionately represented among those with lower socio-economic status. This negatively affects their ability to secure suitable housing. Based on the findings from our online survey, the majority spend over 70% (180 respondents) of their income on rent, while 20% (39 respondents) have had to miss a rental payment in the past year, leading to eviction for seven of them (18%). Despite these affordability challenges, only 10.3% of the respondents live in subsidized housing.
Housing Discrimination Against Black Communities
Black respondents continue to experience discrimination in housing. Housing discrimination refers to patterns of discrimination that affect a person’s ability to rent. Sixty percent of respondents have experienced housing discrimination. Respondents were asked to identify multiple reasons for facing housing discrimination, as they might have experienced it more than once or for different reasons. Eighty percent indicated they experienced discrimination in housing mainly due to race, 25% due to source of income, 20% due to family status, and 16% due to gender. When asked if the incident was reported, 92% did not report the incident because they did not believe reporting would make a difference or they did not know how to report it.
Forced Moves Targeting Black Communities
A forced move occurs when a landlord requires a tenant to move, even if they do not want to. This can happen through a formal eviction notice, verbal communication, or implication. Participants were requested to disclose any instances of a forced move, regardless of the cause. The primary factors leading to respondents’ displacement were landlord disputes (34%), landlords seeking occupancy of the unit (23%), property sales (19%), rent arrears (13%), and extensive renovations or demolition of the property (11%). Overall, 28% of respondents have been forcefully evicted from their homes.
Policies that Undermine Affordability
The minimal tenant protection in Metro Vancouver serves as an attractive feature for landlords to pursue profit-motivated strategies in the multi-family rental market. In 1974, the provincial government of BC rolled out new rent control measures but included the controversial provision commonly known as vacancy decontrol. This provision granted all landlords in BC the autonomy to increase rents to what the market could bear when the unit became vacant. The inclusion of this provision was viewed as a significant victory for landlords because it incentivized violent practices such as evictions and renovictions, allowing landlords to maximize the return on their investment. Additionally, it enabled landlords to profit from the reduction of the supply of affordable rental housing.
Vacancy decontrol has resulted in the permanent loss of affordable rental housing, bringing about a growing eviction and homelessness crisis throughout Canada. It incentivizes landlords to force long-standing tenants (who are protected under rent control) out of their residences to maximize the return on their investments by raising rent and attracting higher-income tenants.
Additional Rent Increases (ARI) also make the Metro Vancouver market an attractive destination for capital investments by landlords to the detriment of the tenants. BC’s ARI rules permit all landlords to raise rents beyond the provincial allowable increase if they have made capital improvements to the property. These include a range of improvements, from balcony replacements to the installation of energy-efficient lighting systems. All improvements, some would argue, contribute to the profits of landlords.
ARI provisions assist landlords in recouping the cost for needed renovations to extend the life of old purpose-built rentals, which improves the quality of life of tenants. On the other hand, these provisions have been found to be a revenue-generating tool for financialized landlords by providing a loophole to sidestep rent control regulations and increase rents beyond the provincial permissible limit (as shown by Lewis and Hughes-Panou in their forthcoming text).
In a report using data from the 2021 Canadian Housing Survey, Xuereb and Jones (2023) found that B.C. leads the country in evictions, with 10.5% of renter household respondents reporting being forced to move during the period from April 2016 to early 2021. Measuring the incidence and rate of eviction among Metro Vancouver Black renters is difficult because of the small proportion of Black renters and because relatively few evictions actually go to a hearing.
Findings from Community Engagement
Our engagement with Black people with lived experience of renting in Metro Vancouver and with housing service providers proves that there is a lack of affordable housing options for Black communities. It also proves that anti-Black racism is present in the rental housing market and highlights the lack of disaggregated race-based data.
- The following priorities were identified:
- Address anti-Black racism, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination.
- Create opportunities to access safe housing.
- Develop housing for individuals and families at 30% of their after-tax income.
- Develop housing communities (Black enclaves) for Black Vancouverites in Metro Vancouver.
- Provide capital grants to renovate and develop culturally appropriate, purpose-built housing.
- Access to culturally appropriate, queer- and trans-safe supports and services, including mental health and addiction support.
- Ensure better alignment between the CMHC and BC Housing’s housing funding programs.
- Streamline application programs between municipalities, provincial, and federal governments and non-profit housing and service providers for access to affordable housing
- To address Black renters’ barriers to accessing equitable housing, we recommend:
- The creation of standardized protocols for collecting and reporting disaggregated race-based data.
- Targeted policies and funding to ensure purpose-built and culturally appropriate housing for Black communities.
- Policies to resolve the eviction crisis, such as implementing vacancy control.
- Meaningful consultations with Black renters.
- The creation of a centralized hub to assist renters in navigating different programs and supports.
- The development of mechanisms for collecting, monitoring, and investigating discriminatory practices
Note: The project was funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) through the National Housing Strategy.
Special thanks to Djaka Blais, Stephanie Allen, the staff and board members of Hogan’s Alley Society, the advisory and community council, the research participants, and the entire research team.
This post is part of our #CAEH23 blog series which highlights research on preventing and ending homelessness that is being presented at the 2023 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, November 8-10 in Halifax, NS. Learn more about the authors’ work through their presentation in the Models and Obstacles: Promising Directions for Preventing and Ending Homelessness session on Thursday, November 9th at 10:30 am.