A dark wall with the words 'Rents too high' written on it.

BC offers rental subsidies for lower-income households and seniors

CKTZ News, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The province of British Columbia currently provides two types of rental subsidies for eligible lower-income families and seniors through BC Housing, paid in monthly instalments toward home rent in the private market. On Cortes and Quadra Islands, seniors make up nearly a third of the population.

Photo credit: Cheque by Tina Franklin via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

BC Housing provides an online Rental Assistance Program Calculator to help interested parties determine whether they qualify.

The Rental Assistance Program (RAP) provides monthly benefits to families who have a total before-tax household income of $40,000 or less, and also meet all of the following requirements:

  • At least a portion of the income came from working in the last year
  • There is at least one dependent child primarily supported by the household
  • More than 30 per cent of the total income goes towards household rent
  • The applicants have been residents of BC for the full prior 12 months
  • The applicants file an annual income tax return
  • The applicants have less than $100,000 in assets.
  • The applicants are permanent residents of Canada

Seniors may be eligible for Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters (SAFER). All of the following criteria must be met:

  • The applicant is 60 years of age or older
  • The applicant has been a resident of BC for the full prior 12 months 
  • The applicant and their live-in spouse, if applicable, are Canadian citizens, permanent residents, have applied for refugee status or had private sponsorship that has broken down
  • More than 30 per cent of the applicant’s gross, before tax, monthly household income is spent on home rent

Supporting documentation must accompany applications, which can be submitted online, by mail or in person, and BC Housing will contact applicants to confirm they are approved, ineligible or need to provide more information.

According to BC Housing, as of March 31, 2020, more than 9,170 low-income working families in BC received the RAP subsidy and approximately 27,060 seniors’ households in BC received SAFER benefits. Both programs require successful applicants to reapply every year.

The Strathcona Community Health Network conducted a Regional Housing Needs Report in the first half of 2018, which highlighted major gaps in rental affordability in the district. Their findings showed that more than a third of Cortes households rent their homes, and couples with children make up the majority of the 17 per cent of households who live below low-income cut-off. Nearly a third of the population of both Cortes and Quadra Islands are seniors 65 years and older, and the survey concluded that senior households are more likely to live in dwellings needing major repairs. 

Cortes Community Housing’s website points to the popularity of the island as a tourist destination as one reason for lack of year-round housing, creating seasonal homelessness during peak season.

“Rentals that might ordinarily have been designated for year round residents are now commanding much higher rents as short term vacation rentals, thus depleting our rental stock for islanders,” it states. 

Top photo credit: Besides rental subsidies, BC Housing also develops affordable housing and oversees homelessness prevention programs. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.