Maple Ridge renters feeling the squeeze

If you’re living the hard-scrabble life in Maple Ridge, another study is telling you what you already know.

If you’re living the hard-scrabble life in Maple Ridge, another study is telling you what you already know.

Rents are pricey, good jobs hard to come by. According to the Canadian Rental Housing Index, it’s all making it tough to find a place to live in Maple Ridge and the rest of Metro Vancouver.

In Maple Ridge, renters are not only being squeezed financially, but physically. The study, based on the 2011 census, says that 10 per cent, or 555 renter households, are living in conditions that are too small for their household size and composition.

It notes that there are 1,800 one-bedroom rental households in Maple Ridge and another 2,000 two-bedroom households.

All told, there are 5,440 rental households in the city.

The study also looked that the costs of renting for those on low income.

A family that is only earning $20,000 a year pays 67 per cent of its income to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

However, that percentage drops to paying only 36 per cent of income on rent if the family’s yearly income is $30,000.

And on average in Maple Ridge, only 24 per cent of total income is spent on paying the rent.

Housing is typically considered affordable if a household spends 30 per cent or less of its before-tax income on rent plus utilities.

The study came out this week and says that In the Fraser Valley, one third of single moms who rent – are paying more than half of their income on rent and utilities.

Maple Ridge gets a ranking of 460 out of 521 cities across Canada, while Pitt Meadows does considerably better ranking 197th.

Pitt Meadows has an easier time in other ways as well.

The average household renter income in the smaller city is $57,709 compared to only $49,659 in Maple Ridge.

And on average, Pitt Meadows people spend only 20 per cent of their income on rent versus 24 per cent in Maple Ridge.

The average monthly amount people spend on rent and utiltilies in both cities is about $980.

Maple Ridge Coun. Craig Speirs said Maple Ridge does not have a lot of rental housing and it’s not creating any.

The city wants developers to include rental accommodation whenever they build condo or townhouse projects but there’s been limited uptake on that.

“We really need to get on it.”

He added, as far as he knows, there’s nothing stopping developers from bulldozing existing apartments to allow new condos, often priced out of the reach of renters, as is currently happening in Burnaby.

Speirs noted Maple Ridge is also short of supportive housing, where people can go who have moved off the street and out of emergency shelters.

Maple Ridge has only one supportive housing complex, the 45-unit Alouette Heights which has round-the-clock supervision while people live independently.

Those people still need help as they make the eventual transition to market housing.

“They still need support but they need less support.”

He wonders what will happen in April when the 40-bed temporary shelter on Lougheed Highway closes. The shelter opened Oct. 1 for six months in order to provide space for the dozens who were camping on Cliff Avenue near the Salvation Army Caring Place all summer.

“When I think of March coming, there’s not a lot of chance of getting anything on the ground by then. This is a real worry of mine,” and he added, of council as well.

He hopes the federal or provincial governments will help but notes that the city has no space in the downtown to contribute as its share for any full-time shelter or supportive housing project.

Any shelter has to be near the core area because street people don’t have cars and won’t be able to access services they need.

“There’s little or no commitment from us to carry on that, so it’s going to have to transition somehow.”

The study found that young people and single mothers are severely stretched to pay their rent in most of the Lower Mainland’s suburban communities.

The study, first released by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association a year ago, now provides a more detailed look at different demographic groups of renters, based on 2011 census data.

In the Fraser Valley, one third of single moms who rent pay more than half of their income on rent and utilities. That climbs to 47 per cent in Coquitlam.

“They are clearly the demographic group that is the most challenged with affordability,” Roy said of single moms. “It’s worst in Coquitlam, but it’s also extremely challenged in Maple Ridge, Langley and in Surrey,” said the association’s CEO Tony Roy.

That demonstrates an affordability “crisis” when more than half of income goes to paying the rent, raising the risk of homelessness.

In Surrey, the index shows a quarter of young people renting are spending more than half their income on rent.

“You’re probably not left with very much,” Roy said.

“I think this is why, particularly for young parents, the incidence of food bank use is just skyrocketing. Because people are spending all their money to keep a roof over their heads.”

Roy said Canada essentially cut off federal support for social housing about 20 years ago and the communities that have been growing fastest since then – many in Metro Vancouver – have grappled with the worst shortfall of purpose-built rentals as a result.

“These communities have grown up over the last 20 years without a federal partner,” he said.

The worst ranking city in Canada is Burnaby at number 521 in the index,

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