New poll finds housing, homelessness top issues ahead of B.C. municipal elections

·3 min read
Vancouver construction worker Ivon Escobar, who rents a 'tiny' suite for $1,600, sits in the West End on Sunday. She worries if her rent rises again she won't be able to stay in the city. (David P. Ball/CBC - image credit)
Vancouver construction worker Ivon Escobar, who rents a 'tiny' suite for $1,600, sits in the West End on Sunday. She worries if her rent rises again she won't be able to stay in the city. (David P. Ball/CBC - image credit)

Construction worker Ivon Escobar says she doesn't know what she'll do if her rent rises again.

The 27-year-old's "tiny" Vancouver studio costs $1,600 a month.

"Which is basically one of my paycheques," she said. "I just can't afford it much longer.

"If they raise my rent like last year — if it gets more expensive than I pay right now, honestly I don't know what I can do. My friends have the same feeling."

Escobar is not alone. A new poll of 2,000 adults found the top issue across B.C. ahead of municipal elections on Oct. 15 is housing and homelessness.

Thirty-nine per cent of those surveyed said it's top of mind — more than double those who said health is the biggest concern.

The poll was conducted by Research Co. and commissioned by the Cooperative Housing Federation and other housing organizations.

Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Cooperative Housing Federation, says it's not surprising housing affordability is the top issue, but the magnitude of concern is a bit unexpected, especially after the pandemic health emergency.

"People who had been concerned about the housing crisis over the last decade have seen those concerns sharpen," he said. "In the upcoming municipal election, we know the issues will resonate."

'People overwhelmingly support taking action'

Armstrong said it's not news that British Columbians are upset about climbing housing prices — which are on the rise again after a few years of slow-down.

But the poll found that many voters support specific, concrete solutions — many of which could involve municipal governments.

Among the results, eight in 10 people support giving city-owned land to non-profit and co-op housing developments for new affordable units.

Nearly three-quarters backed "streamlining municipal permitting and rezoning processes to fast-track development of rental housing," with a focus on affordable rents.

And 68 per cent supported "affordable housing targets" aimed at meeting Indigenous residents' needs.

"People overwhelmingly support taking action to address the housing crisis by cutting red tape and making better use of public land, as well as removing barriers to allow for a diversity of housing options to meet people's needs," the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association said in a statement.

According to Penny Gurstein, director of the University of B.C.'s Housing Research Collaborative, today's real estate volatility has exacerbated many people's fears their housing could become precarious, if it isn't already.

"We have to remember that just five per cent of the housing market is being addressed by the public sector — by subsidies or outright building — it's really not very much compared to what's being done in other countries," she said.

The Research Co. poll was conducted using online panels — and weighted to reflect the population. For comparison purposes only, a random sample of the same size would yield a 2.2 per cent margin of error — 19 times out of 20.

The results "should send a clear message to all incumbents and candidates seeking municipal office this fall that they need to bring a real commitment and real ideas to the table," Research Co. pollster Mario Canseco said in a statement.

'When's it going to change — when we're all homeless?'

Gurstein said municipal politicians can ignore the findings — and the public's anger about housing — at their own peril. But there's "a great opportunity" for governments to buy, acquire or use their own land for new affordable housing, she said.

For Escobar, it's time for cities to end platitudes and finger-pointing.

"I honestly don't get where they're putting their attention right now," she said. "Because everything I think is important and should be changed isn't changing — homeless people, drugs, rent.

"When's it going to change — when we're all homeless?"

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