Downtown Eastside housing survey shows rising SRO rents

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Rents are continuing to rise in single-room occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside, and fewer low-income rooms are available, according to a new Carnegie Community Action Project housing survey.

The sixth annual report released today (February 17) indicates that just four percent of privately run SRO hotels surveyed are renting all their rooms for the welfare shelter rate of $375, compared to nine percent last year. The authors found no vacant rooms renting for $375 or less.

Other statistics highlighted by CCAP include an average lowest rent of $469 a month, compared to $452 in the group’s previous survey.

“That might not seem a lot, but if you’re living off a $610 a month welfare cheque, then every penny counts,” CCAP researcher Tamara Herman said in a phone interview.

The report also identifies a “troubling trend” of rents rising to $500 a month or higher, with 614 of SRO rooms surveyed renting at this rate.

Herman said 236 units were priced out of range for low-income people last year when rents were increased to $425 or higher.

The CCAP organizer noted that what stood out the most in the group’s latest survey was the “more subtle means that landlords and managers and property owners are taking to exclude low-income people from renting the few rooms that are still available to them.”

Those measures, she said, include SROs advertising online and requesting LinkedIn profiles of potential tenants.

“Those are all kind of subtle signs that the class that’s targeted as residents has changed,” she stated.

CCAP also noted that provincial income-assistance rates have not been increased from $610 since 2007. Yet between 2009 and 2013, the average lowest rent in SRO buildings surveyed increased from $398 to $469.

“For a person on social assistance, $375 a month in rent is 61% of their income…the $71 average rent increase means that a person on social assistance spends 73% of their income on housing,” the report reads.

Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said the city and the province have been buying SRO hotels and converting them to government-run buildings.

“Slowly but surely we’re taking them over,” he told the Straight by phone.

“It’s quite a substantial number the province and the city have been working on together to fix them up, increase quality of life, and keep it at shelter rates.”

The CCAP survey includes information from 64 of 81 privately owned and run SRO hotels that were checked by the group.

This year’s report also includes analysis of the city’s draft Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside.

According to CCAP, in order to renovate SRO rooms in the Downtown Eastside to include kitchens and bathrooms, two rooms will have to be combined, reducing the total number of units. 

“Self-contained welfare rate social housing units that could make up for SRO rooms lost through the upgrading are still not accounted for in the draft LAP,” the group states.

CCAP commended a proposal in the draft plan for new developments in the Oppenheimer District to consist of 60 percent social housing. But Herman said that only one-third of those social-housing units will be available to people on welfare and pension. 

“We’re pushing the city to change the definition of social housing,” she said.

The Downtown Eastside plan is scheduled to go before city council next month.

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