Metro Vancouver study links transit usage and low-income renters

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Commuters board the bus downtown Vancouver on West Georgia Street. Photo by Alison Pudsey.

Reported by Alison Pudsey

Renters are more likely than homeowners to use transit, no matter what their income levels, says a recent housing study by Metro Vancouver.

And low-income renters are the most likely group of all to use transit, said the study.

That’s why it’s crucial for the region to ensure that, as federal and provincial money is poured into transit and housing during the next decade, those renters are provided with places to live near transit, said Metro Vancouver senior regional planner Raymond Kan.

Access to transit provides relief to low-income renters

Kan said that the study shows that the region can maximize transit ridership if it is able to accommodate these households.

He emphasized that doing so would ensure not just higher transit ridership but also some relief for low-income households, who often spend most of their available money on two big bills: housing and transportation.

“You could be paying up to two thirds of your pre-tax income on housing and transportation. It’s a significant burden compared to other income groups,” said Kan.

Previous Metro reports have projected that the region needed about 185,000 new units of housing between 2011 and 2021 to accommodate new people moving in. About 65,000 of those need to be for people who have a low income to moderate income. However, there is no overall plan for where those should go.

 Cheaper rentals diminishing near SkyTrain

The region has also seen the loss of some low-income rental near transit, as cheaper apartments have been torn down in Burnaby near Metrotown, one of the parts of the region where residents use transit the most. Coquitlam, like Burnaby, is seeing old apartment buildings demolished and replaced by new condo towers.

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A recent study by Metro Vancouver shows that having affordable rental housing close to transit is essential to maximize transit ridership. Photo by Alison Pudsey.

Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs agreed it’s critical to have more affordable rental housing in the city, especially close to transit.

“A very important Metro Vancouver study has demonstrated that overall costs drop significantly if commuting can be done without a car,” said Meggs. “A family with modest annual income, could never afford a condominium, but could afford to rent a market rental unit in most neighbourhoods in Metro. The rent would work out to about one-third of gross income. That becomes even more affordable if it’s close to transit.”

Vancouver striving to protect rental housing

Meggs said that Vancouver has a wide range of rental measures in place, and the city has asked staff to bring forward recommendations to tighten protection even further.

“As it stands, most rental has to be replaced with equivalent rental, so where rental exists near transit it would be replaced, or increased if possible,” said Meggs. “Most developable land near transit in the city is industrial at the moment, but we encouraged rental along the Canada Line and [are] having some success.”

However, Meggs believes that the biggest problem is not enough is being done to build more rental to meet the city’s demand.

“Municipalities need to do everything possible to protect existing rental, and to require its replacement in case of redevelopment,” said Meggs. “We need incentive programs to build rental, especially programs supported by senior levels of government. In Vancouver, our Rental 100 program increased rental construction from a few hundred units a year to more than 1,000 annually, but we need even more.”

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