A Vancouver woman wants to be spending time with her grandchildren as the summer months wind down. Instead, Leona, who asked CTV News not to use her last name, has spent the last few weeks homeless, finding refuge in an abandoned home in the city.
”I found a house that was empty, so I was sleeping in the basement because there was nowhere else to go,” she said.
Leona’s housing situation became precarious following a serious injury that compromised her ability to work. She was then priced out of the rental market following a no-fault eviction. For the last two months, she said she has exhausted all of the province’s housing options, filling out dozens of applications for subsidized housing and shelter space from Vancouver to Hope. She said a recurring issue for her is that she doesn’t qualify for many of the housing options.
“Part of the reason why I’m having trouble finding housing is because I don’t fit into any of the categories,” she said. “I’m not quite a senior – still a grandma but not quite a senior – and it limits me and my ability to find anything that I can fit into.”
The 50-year-old struggles with mobility issues and has also been diagnosed with MCAS, or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, a condition that causes her to have severe allergic reactions triggered by fragrances and chemicals. She said she’s looking for housing that can accommodate these needs. Another barrier to finding a home is the monthly shelter rate she receives from the government as a person on provincial disability assistance.
“I get $500 a month allotted to me for rent,” she told CTV News. “I can’t even rent a room for $500 in this city.”
MORE THAN 4,500 PEOPLE ON WAITLIST
According to BC Housing, as of March 1 of this year, there were 4,544 applicants living with disabilities on the housing registry. Jeff Leggat, a disability advocate based on Vancouver Island, has been on the waitlist since 2019.
“Forty-five hundred people on the subsidized list is atrocious in B.C.,” he said. “We definitely need so much more subsidized housing, or we need the government to put the subsidized housing – the shelter level – up to the market rent, so instead of the $500 a month, it should be $1,500 a month, and that’s on the low end.”
In a statement to CTV News, BC Housing said subsidized housing is based on need, not the length of time on a waitlist. It added that priority is often given to “seniors (age 55+), families with children” and people “experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”
The Ministry of Housing said through provincial investments and its Homes for People plan, there are more than 17,000 homes built or underway, with accessible and adaptable features to suit a range of needs.
In a statement, Housing Minister Ravi Khalon said of these homes, a minimum of five per cent, or 850 units, are built to be wheelchair accessible.
“We know we need to add more housing stock in every community in the province,” Khalon’s statement said.
Both Leggat and Leona say this housing stock is desperately needed to keep them from falling through the province’s social safety net.
“It’s really hard to understand how my life has gotten to this point,” Leona said. “What do I do? I’m out of options.”