While many are coming back from summer break, they are met with the harsh reality that the housing market took no break at all. According to August data from Rentals.ca, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit in Vancouver was $3,013. The situation does not improve for families with children, who pay an average of $3,918 for two bedrooms – a cost that stretches even healthy two-income households. For those in the bottom 20% of income, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, only a scant one percent of units are “affordable.”
These numbers don’t capture the severity of the housing crisis for racialized and ethnocultural communities and their traditional centres. Neighbourhoods like Chinatown and Punjabi Market struggle as residents must move further away from the institutions, shops, and amenities that give them community.
Historically, the Jewish community's infrastructure was built around the Oak Street area where we established daycares, day schools, long-term care facilities, seniors programs, a community centre, and synagogues. There too, housing prices are now well out of reach for many families.
This crisis affects how we sustain our community, disproportionately impacting those who rely the most on its services. Young Jewish families can’t afford the Oakridge area so access to childcare at the JCC becomes equally out of reach, while our most vulnerable are priced out of proximity to culturally appropriate food programs, family services, and other supports.
Seniors on fixed incomes must travel farther to access programs that prevent social isolation. Residents at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, several of whom are Holocaust Survivors, see their children and grandchildren less frequently as they’re forced to move further away.
To connect to our Jewish roots, participate in cultural life, and grow spiritually, Jews must be close to Jewish amenities. During Shabbat and many Jewish holidays, the use of vehicles is forbidden. Observant Jews must live within walking distance of their synagogue – many of which are along Oak Street – for services, assembly, and study. Once priced out of the area, they can’t practice their religion or participate in communal life. Members are isolated, and organizations are weakened.
As early as 2007, our community saw the need to house the most vulnerable and formed the Tikva Housing Society. 16 years later, Tikva subsidizes over $1.1 million in rents per year, helping more than 300 people. However, more work is needed. 334 applicants languish on our Jewish Housing Registry’s waitlist – including 80 families with children, more than 200 seniors, and 71 persons with disabilities.
Until recently, Tikva’s programs were mostly funded by community donations without government support. This summer, Tikva proudly partnered with BC Housing and Polygon to open the Susana Cogan Place in South Burnaby, which provides 20 affordable homes.
Those purchasing homes, including non-profit societies, must pay B.C.’s Property Transfer Tax (PTT). For Susana Cogan Place, Tikva’s Rental Housing Society paid $130,500 in PTT, or $6,525 per unit, which directly limits expansion of their programming. During government consultation for next year’s provincial budget, CIJA proposed a PTT exemption for non-profit housing providers, reducing costs of financing and allowing not-for-profit housing organizations to lower rents or build more units. If Tikva had not had to pay PTT for Susana Cogan place, it could have increased the impact of their subsidy program by more than 40% or further lowered rents.
It’s not just us asking for the province to provide relief for non-profit housing providers. The City of Burnaby is proposing a resolution at this September’s Union of BC Municipalities conference to: “expand the exemption from payment of Property Transfer Tax to all not-for-profit societies […] who are leasing municipal lands for the development of affordable housing.”
The province is already undertaking work to understand the barriers to creating affordable housing, and we hope that they also look at those faced by the not-for-profit housing sector. No single level of government, not-for-profit, or developer is going to fix this crisis; it is going to take all of us working together.
As the advocacy agent for the organized Jewish community, CIJA has advocated for affordability, food dignity, children and families with disabilities, and those living in poverty both in the Jewish and wider community. However, we know that, as the largest cost for most families, housing exacerbates many other issues.
It’s time to alleviate the tax burden for non-profit housing providers and communities trying to do the right thing. The province can help those most in need by providing this PTT exemption. The sooner done, the sooner the housing crisis will begin to ease.
Nico Slobinsky is Vice President, Pacific Region, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Anat Gogo is the Executive Director of Tikva Housing Society.