How Homelessness Happens: High Cost of Living

Oct 2021 | Action Homelessness Housing Other Resources

As reflected in many Canadian communities, Nanaimo has seen unprecedented increases in the cost of living over the last few years. Nanaimo is also facing a housing affordability crisis, making it difficult to find housing for those with a modest income and near impossible for vulnerable and low-income residents.

Facts about Nanaimo’s Affordable Housing Crisis

The current rental vacancy rate is 1.0% - a healthy vacancy rate is 5% - the ​low vacancy rate means there are very few available rental units ​in Nanaimo.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Nanaimo is $1,009 (Sept. 2021)
The price of a single-family home jumped 50.1% since May 2017​- $710,500 (May 2021) vs. $473,200 (May 2017) – making homeownership out of reach for many. 
The price of a single-family home jumped 38% in three years ​- $545,200 (Sept. 2018) vs $745,400 (Sept. 2021)  –  making homeownership out of reach for many. 
Nanaimo’s affordability crisis is directly impacted by its proximity to Vancouver​, which draws more residents from the Lower Mainland and increases the demand for housing.

Unaffordable Rentals

Earlier this year, The City of Nanaimo released the Renter and Landlord Survey results from REIMAGINE NANAIMO. The survey was open for three weeks, gathering 465 results from renters. This is what they found:

Households in Core Need

The combination of exceedingly low rental vacancy rates and average high rent is creating more and more housing instability

A household is said to be in ‘core housing need’ if its housing falls below at least one of the adequacy, affordability, or suitability standards, and it would have to spend 30% or more of its total before-tax income to pay the median rent of alternative local housing.

The 2016 Census data shows that over 38% of Nanaimo’s renters were found to be in core housing need.  With the increasing housing prices and decreasing rental vacancy rate since 2016, that number is likely much higher.

Unaffordable Housing and Homelessness

Nanaimo, like many cities in Canada, relies on the Point-in-Time Homelessness Count to collect information about its homeless population

The 2020 PiT Count, carried out just prior to the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, found that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo continues to grow, despite efforts to end homelessness.

The data shows that the minimum number of people facing homelessness in Nanaimo is 433, but likely the number is closer to 600; an increase of 29% since 2018 (335) and 149% since 2016 (174). Given the influence of COVID-19 restrictions around the time the count took place, there is reason to believe that the real number of people facing homelessness in Nanaimo was underrepresented.

When asked about why they had fallen into homelessness, the top three issues that have caused people to lose their housing are:

Hidden Homelessness

We also have to consider that the data from the PiT Count don’t represent the number of “hidden homeless” – people who are not staying in shelters or sleeping on the street, but crashing on a friend’s couch, sleeping in their car or staying in a motel because they cannot secure housing.

In Nanaimo, 1345 people are estimated to be experiencing transitional homelessness every year. These are people who move in and out of homelessness, having no place to live quickly, experiencing very few episodes of homelessness throughout their lives. 

Living with Housing Instability

It’s estimated that at least 6000 people in Nanaimo are living on the edge of homelessness. These are individuals and families where more than 50% of their total income is spent on housing and where household income is under $30,000 annually. 

When there’s an imbalance between income and housing costs, there is a higher risk of being susceptible to falling into homelessness. 

Support for renters

There are many local programs and resources available which help people find housing:

Local actions

There are many Governments, organizations and task forces working to omit the current housing affordability crisis in Nanaimo:

The Nanaimo Homeless Coalition ​is a united voice of non-profit organizations, governments and citizens who formed ​Nanaimo’s Action Plan to End Homelessness ​and work closely with the social sector, First Nations and government to encourage action to address homelessness.

The City of Nanaimo’s Health & Housing Task Force ​worked with partner organizations, including the NHC, to develop a 5-year Health and Housing Action Plan. The plan was endorsed by Nanaimo City Council in February 2021. A governance is being formed to implement the plan. 

The Provincial Government is funding affordable rentals in Nanaimo. Work is underway to create more housing and 180 new rental homes are beginning construction.

The Provincial Government​ manages housing solutions through BC Housing. A new investment by BC Housing will create over 300 new affordable homes in Nanaimo, including new permanent, purpose-built supportive homes for people experiencing homelessness and new affordable rental homes for individuals, seniors and families.

The Federal Government​ is providing financial investments of $55 billion over the next decade to address housing affordability and homelessness through the ​National Housing Strategy. Nanaimo receives $626,000 per year in designated funds and $256,000 in Indigenous funds​.

United Way British Columbia supports and funds agencies that are working to address housing affordability and homelessness. UWBC is the Community Entity (CE) for the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, acting as a ​liaison for Federal Government funding. With guidance from the Nanaimo Community Advisory Board , those funds are invested to help end homelessness.

Resources in Nanaimo

Haven Society – Located in Nanaimo, Haven Society is guided by feminist ideals and offers a range of services, public education, and campaigning to advance the integrity and safety of women, children, youth and families.

Cedar Woman House – a purpose-built institution in Nanaimo for Indigenous women and children who have undergone or are in danger of facing violence. It is staffed 24 hours a day. This facility was built with Indigenous values, cultural interests, and programming in mind.

Nanaimo Youth Services Association – a non-profit that provides support to young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers. Their services range from providing housing, mental, physical and emotional support, life skills training and employment assistance.

Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre – Strives to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people living in an urban environment by promoting justice, fairness and equality through a holistic approach to programming and services.

Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre – Offers a variety of educational and cultural opportunities for toddlers to youths, as well as housing and outreach programs. 

HelpSeeker – Register your organization on the HelpSeeker app so that people in need can find support and information right when they need it.

Find help in Nanaimo with Helpseeker for support and services
Find help in Nanaimo with Helpseeker. Access supports and services.

Resources to help you

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