The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report last Thursday that shows minimum wage earners cannot afford 91 percent of one-bedroom rentals, and 97 percent of two-bedroom rentals in Canada.
Minimum wage in B.C. is $13.85 an hour, which is among the highest in the country behind Ontario, and Alberta. An average one bedroom rental property in the mid-island area is $1,200. If a minimum wage earner works a 40 hour work week they will earn $1,108 every two weeks, with a monthly income of $2,216 before tax. This means that the average rent payment is over half their monthly income not including utilities and other costs.
Many people will argue that minimum wage is not meant to be a livable wage, however minimum wage was initially designed to create a minimum standard of living to protect the health and well being of employees, according to a paper from Cornell Law School. Surely the “minimum standard” of living should include affordable housing.
The lack of affordable rental spaces leads many minimum wage earners to rent single rooms, which are often available for $450 – $650 a month. Costs of utilities will vary among different properties. For some renters, this is a model that works. They are able to afford their situation with roommates before moving on to a higher paying job.
Unfortunately, not all rental situations are created equal. For those suffering from mental health issues and chronic illnesses, living with others may exacerbate their symptoms and make life unmangeable. Some rental situations can prove unsafe, either through neglectful landlords or dangerous roommates. If someone is not comfortable in their own home, it is extremely difficult to succeed in other aspects of life.
What minimum wage earners and people beginning their careers need is affordable housing. One or two bedroom units that are $500 – $800 a month. This is a change that needs to be led by municipal, provincial, and federal governments. Currently, there is not enough incentive for developers to create affordable housing, as they’re unlikely to see a return on their investment.
It is simply not enough to raise the minimum wage. For minimum wage to truly provide the minimum standard of living, there needs to be an all hands on deck approach to housing affordability. This is a crisis, and Canadians cannot afford to wait it out.