This week, B.C. announced, according to the CBC, that B.C. will be spending $1.9 billion to fund the building of 4,900 low-income rental units in 42 locations over the next three years. Each building will include a range of units and prices, ranging from middle-income families to low-wage workers. This is, of course, to attempt to combat the housing market crisis.
Jill Atkey, chief executive of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, stated in a news conference in Vancouver that this was a “vital” investment, and that “This crisis is real.” No kidding — it has been for years.
Currently, minimum wage is $12.65, and set to rise to $13.85 on June 1, 2019, then to $14.60 on June 1, 2020, then $15.20 on June 1, 2021. According to the Globe and Mail, Premier John Horgan said the wage increase is part of the plan to “make life more affordable.” for minimum wage workers.
Let’s do some math. Hypothetically, let’s say someone working a minimum-wage job is working 40 hours per week (often at more than one job). They’d be making $2,024 before taxes. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment or basement suite in Abbotsford is anywhere from $900 to $1,300, provided you can find somewhere to live. (As of November 2017, Abbotsford was reported as having one of the tightest rental markets at 0.2 per cent vacancy rate — not much has changed.) Now add in hydro, food, gas and car insurance (because our transit system is deplorable), and taxes, and they might be lucky enough to save a few dollars to go toward university.
And, according to Living Wage Fraser Valley campaign, the living wage in Abbotsford for a family of four where both parents are working is $17.40. However, living wage is defined as living on a bare bones budget, while working 35 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year. Now, I’d guess many people reading this aren’t parent to two children, but some are. Regardless, minimum wage isn’t anywhere near $17.40, and still won’t be by the time the government’s minimum wage increase is complete in 2021 (which, by that time, cost of living will have likely increased as well). If the Living Wage Fraser Valley campaign knows what the living wage in Abbotsford is, surely the government could calculate it as well, and realize that $15.20 three years from now isn’t going to be enough.
The above is the best-case scenario for low-income workers, and it’s not even good. You’re pushing yourself to the limit — often trying to balance several jobs alongside university or caring for family members — and, if you’re lucky, barely able to make ends meet.
I remember helping my friend look for an apartment about eight years ago. He worked a minimum-wage job full-time, and was also attending an alternative high school with me. Back then, apartments were easy to find. We found about 15 in the $600 price range within a couple of days, and, upon visiting a few, he chose one he liked and moved in. Simple as that. Making $10 an hour, he had $1,000 left over after rent to pay for food, and anything else he wanted or needed. Although he didn’t have family to fall back on in hard times, he was able to afford an apartment by himself, and not worry about whether he’d be able to eat at the end of the month.
Right now, options for individuals working low-income jobs aren’t great. A one-bedroom apartment is almost always out of the question if they want anything left over at the end of the month. Finding a room to rent in a house is better — but with low vacancy rates, the chances of that are slim. Then there’s the option of staying at home, but it’s not ideal for most (or even an option for some).
So the government has the plan to build more affordable housing, which is awesome; it’ll create jobs, and also, hopefully, create affordable housing. But this housing is created not only for low-income families, but for middle-income families — including nurses (who, starting out, make $73,905 per year, vs. $24,288 of a minimum-wage worker). So, the real question is: how affordable is this housing really going to be?