Federal Housing Advocate’s report details housing challenges in British Columbia

August 31, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

Today, Federal Housing Advocate Marie-Josée Houle released her first observational report on British Columbia, which details what she heard directly from community members and housing service providers about their housing realities and concerns.

During her visit, the Advocate heard the need for all levels of government to act on their human rights obligations, including the human right to adequate housing and Indigenous rights. The level of stress that unhoused and precariously housed people are living with cannot be underestimated. It is taking a toll on their physical, mental, and emotional health. Many services providers are faced with the impossible circumstances of chronic underfunding, aging infrastructure, staffing challenges, and health and safety issues.

Amplifying people’s experiences to decision-makers is a key role of the Advocate. Gathering testimonies on the issues the Advocate has raised in this report is part of a human rights-based approach and critical to filling in some of the data gaps that are apparent with quantitative housing statistics.

The report highlights the power of advocacy and builds on the important work already being done by advocates and community members across British Columbia. It is intended as a tool for the Federal Housing Advocate, local advocates, and people with lived and living experience to bring to the attention of decision-makers and highlight key areas for action on the human right to adequate housing.

Human rights and people’s lived experiences must be the focus of systemic change to housing policies and laws. All levels of government have an obligation to act.

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“It is important that the Government of British Columbia, municipalities and other levels of governments carefully and urgently consider the opinions and remedies proposed by rights holders, civil society groups, and Indigenous organizations presented in this report. It is essential that they work together to address the preliminary recommendations and other related recommendations already brought forth by British Columbia housing advocates and experts.”

Marie-Josée Houle, Federal Housing Advocate



  • The Advocate visited Victoria, View Royal, Prince George, Vancouver, Surrey and New Westminster from August 23 to September 2, 2022.
  • Aspects of this report reflect this snapshot in time – where possible, the report includes new information and updates since the Advocate’s visit.
  • Meanwhile, many of the concerns we heard from people and organizations in the province are longstanding issues that still must be addressed. People’s lived experience will always be a reality, and must be taken into account by decision-makers.

What we heard:

  • Security of tenure: A continued need to address high rates of evictions and lack of tenant protections persisted across British Colombia, and have caused people to enter into homelessness. The Advocate also heard how existing avenues for tenants to contest evictions provide limited recourse. Meanwhile, the Advocate was distressed to hear how people living in encampments are experiencing alarming rates of violence and harassment, including at the hands of police. She heard from encampment residents, including in Prince George, that certain cities and towns are becoming hostile spaces for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Availability of services and infrastructure: The Advocate heard how access to sanitation is a serious concern for many living in single room occupancy units and encampments, impacting the right to live in dignity. For people experiencing homelessness, access to basic water and sanitation services is often nonexistent, and in some cases, the Advocate heard, this deprivation was intentional.
  • Affordability: The Advocate heard how housing in British Columbia is increasingly unaffordable for larger and larger swathes of the population while vacancy rates are extremely low, how the cost of housing is causing homelessness, and how food banks are running out of supplies because of increasing need. The Advocate was repeatedly informed that financialization is a root problem driving unaffordability.
  • Habitability: The Advocate heard from tenants living in rental buildings who described a lack of consistent management and upkeep from corporate landlords, leading to poor and unsafe living conditions. One tenant described a noxious odour and mold in her building, and said that some units do not have clean water. Another tenant described how the broken elevator in her rental building was a safety issue for seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.
  • Accessibility: Housing is not adequate if the specific needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups are not taken into account. The Advocate heard about the need to address systemic, structural reasons that have rendered housing unattainable. She heard of the need to confront “poverty by design”, look at how the “system is setting people up for failure,” and how people are “DE-housed, not unhoused.” The Advocate also heard how the housing needs of particular groups are not being met – including First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, women, youth, seniors, people with disabilities and people with addictions.
  • Location: The Advocate heard many instances where the lack of access to secure housing created barriers for people to access specific services they needed. The Advocate also heard of instances where the concentration of services in specific urban locations, such as downtown Vancouver, also creates a concentration of vulnerable individuals who are then targeted for violence and exploitation. This highlights the need for people to have more options to access services, so that they can do so readily and safely.
  • Cultural adequacy: The Advocate heard the need for governments to respect First Nations, Inuit and Métis rights and to ensure reconciliation in housing provision, including through support of self-determined housing policy and culturally appropriate housing programs.

Key recommendations for action:

  • The provincial government should undertake a full review of the Residential Tenancy Act using a rights-based approach, including ensuring tenants participate in the review, with adequate Indigenous representation.
  • All levels of government should allocate funds and other resources to urgently address inadequate habitability in single room occupancy units, aging supportive housing, and on-reserve housing, targeting immediate health and safety concerns related to ventilation, mould, lack of fire safety, and inadequate cooling.
  • Provincial and municipal governments should recognize the distinct rights of Indigenous peoples and change the way decision-making structures work to give Indigenous peoples more autonomy when it comes to housing policies and programs.
  • Municipal governments should provide encampment residents access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation facilities, electricity, and heat.
  • The provincial and federal governments should support municipalities that are facing the disproportionate impact of addressing the existence of encampments, and invest in short and long-term housing options and supports for encampment residents.
  • Provincial and municipal governments should continue to work with the Cooperative Housing Federation of B.C. and the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association to build sector capacity and significantly expand support for affordable, non-market housing options to better target the needs of people experiencing inadequate housing or homelessness over the long term.
  • Provincial and municipal governments should increase percentages of affordable housing in new multi-unit residential buildings and ensure that they are truly affordable to low-income people.
  • The provincial government should strengthen anti-speculation and other tax measures to curb financialization of housing.
  • The provincial government should provide targeted and sustained funding to house low-income trans and gender diverse people who are facing housing discrimination in the rental market and a lack of safety and privacy in emergency and transition housing programs.
  • The federal government should support Indigenous communities to ensure access to housing for those displaced by the 2021 fires in British Columbia in the immediate term and through long-term reconstruction efforts.
  • The provincial and federal and governments should provide adequate and sustained funding for a “For Indigenous, by Indigenous” urban, rural, and northern housing strategy.

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