‘Poor’ affordable housing rating hints at crisis

Nearly one-in-five Red Deer renters spend half their gross income putting a roof over their heads.

Nearly one-in-five Red Deer renters spend half their gross income putting a roof over their heads.

A partnership of housing organizations across the country released a study this week based on Statistics Canada’s 2011 numbers on the rental scene.

Data shows that 19 per cent of Red Deer renters are left with less than half of their before-tax income after paying rent and utilities.

Household spending is considered affordable if less than 30 per cent goes towards housing expenses. Forty-two per cent of renters spend above that threshold in Red Deer.

There are about 11,800 rental units in Red Deer. Average rents in the Red Deer area are $1,005 a month based on StatsCan figures, combining all suites from bachelor apartments to four-bedroom units. That is rated as “poor” on the affordability scale.

Red Deer places 357 out of 523 communities surveyed in an affordability ranking by the coalition of six housing organizations and B.C.’s Vancity credit union.

The city’s affordability numbers are in line with national statistics, which show 19 per cent spend more than 30 per cent of their income and 40 per cent more than half their income on rent and utilities.

In Canada’s most expensive cities, Toronto and Vancouver, 45 per cent of renters sink more than 30 per cent of their income into housing.

But the issue is not a big-city problem, says the coalition.

Central Alberta communities offer cases in point. In Lacombe, 47 per cent of renters spend more than 30 per cent. In Ponoka, it’s 48 per cent.

The coalition warns that a quarter of Canadians face a “crisis level of spending” on their housing and urged governments to do more to provide affordable options.

Ron Schlegelmilch, of the Alberta Network of Public Housing Agencies, said the numbers provide the hard data confirming what those involved in helping people find housing have known or suspected for years.

“It’s not really a surprise at all,” said Schlegelmilch. “At least based on my director experience for the last four or five years, we’ve known that the amount of available affordable housing needed to increase.

“Having the index represent that in a real quantifiable way is a real asset for us and how we approach this.”

It is hoped that municipalities will draw on this information to lobby, along with others such as the housing network, the provincial and federal governments to direct more money towards housing options and give it more priority.

There are many benefits to ensuring adequate housing is available. Shelter is a basic need and its absence often shows up in additional costs in social services, health, policing and education.

“Those effects on health, education and social services are well documented,” he said.

“For me, at the local level, the real value is a healthy community. What municipality is going to say we don’t want a healthier community?”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com