Renters feel squeeze of unaffordability

Russ Godfrey used to get calls only in extreme cases

Russ Godfrey used to get calls only in extreme cases. Slumlords standing by as their buildings collapsed around helpless tenants, landlords invading tenant’s privacy, deadbeats skipping out on  months worth of rent — that sort of thing.  Now he gets calls from seniors, from middle-class working families, from new arrivals — all with the same complaint.

“What I hear day after day is ‘I can’t afford my rent increase’ or ‘I can’t find anywhere affordable to live here.’”

During his time with the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre — a non-profit that provides tenants with information on their rights and obligations, and lobbies for renters’ rights — Godfrey has been a witness to the ongoing disappearance of affordable rental housing in the capital and throughout B.C., and with it a growing sense of desperation on the part of renters.

While TRAC deals with complaints about everything from leaky roofs to rising rents, Godfrey says most of these problems would be solved if tenants had a choice. The problem is quite simply a lack of affordable rentals, and while the solution is obvious, government at every level continues to avoid the issue.

“We’ve just got a perfect storm here of problems and the solution isn’t even on the horizon, and that’s disheartening.”

Most of all we need to get over our perception of renters as a nuisance to be ignored or avoided, and homeowners and policy makers need to wake up to the impact of this growing problem on society as a whole. With around 70 per cent of Victoria residents living in rented space, no one can afford to continue writing these people off as lesser members of the community.

The city of gardens is fast becoming a retirement community for the wealthy. The people struggling with housing are no longer those clinging to the bottom rungs of society; they’re public servants, ambulance drivers, Monday columnists and at least one Victoria city councillor. The cost of rent in this city has swelled the ranks of the working poor to include the vast majority of people living in this city, and it’s up to everyone to demand a change. M

Call the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day at 1-800-665-1185, or visit tenants.bc.ca.

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