Over the last six years I have calculated the Living Wage for Prince George in addition to other communities in Northern BC and I’ve learned a great deal about various aspects of the calculation, housing being one of those things. When the city launched their housing needs assessment survey this week I couldn’t be more thrilled. Here’s why…
The data is only as good as the info collected
Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) is a crown corporation governed by Parliament. They are Canada’s national housing agency and a lot of our national housing data comes from their research. There are a couple things I find concerning with their methodology, the biggest one being accuracy.
Taking one look at our market housing data it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there is no way a 3 bedroom rental in Prince George costs $950 a month. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a one bedroom for that amount. (Note: $950 represents the median rent for a 3+ bedroom in Prince George; the median is used instead of average in the living wage calculation so that luxury rentals don’t skew the data).
According to CMHC, “the survey is conducted on a sample basis in all urban areas with populations of 10,000 or more, and targets only privately initiated structures with at least three rental units, which have been on the market for at least three months.” Here are the issues I have with the methodology:
- “Sample” data never gives you a full picture because it only represents a subset of the thing you’re looking at. Yes, it does allow you to make inferences but this with the other issues below muddies the waters too much for my liking.
- The sample data, as far as I can see, doesn’t seem to be defined (at least it’s not listed in the CMHC methodology glossary so not having this readily available makes me question the transparency of the data). Is it a 25%, 50%, or 75% sample set of the market rental housing data?
- Only 31 of the 107 communities in British Columbia have populations over 10,000 which means that this data is only representative of 28% of communities in BC so there’s a lot of housing data being excluded.
- “Privately initiated structures with at least three rental units” means that the survey is missing out on a lot of rental units, especially in communities that allow secondary suites. It also means that smaller communities who are less likely to have more multifamily housing don’t actually get an accurate read on their housing market.
Independent Research: A Housing Needs Assessment
We know the CMHC Market Rental Housing data isn’t really representative of communities, so how do we fix this? The answer is the Housing Needs Assessment. Communities are now mandated to do a housing needs assessment every five years and this year, the City of Prince George is undertaking this assessment.
So how you can help? Do the survey by September 30th. By collecting data from residents, we can get a more comprehensive snapshot of what our housing market looks like without relying solely on CMHC data samples. Of course, the less people who do the survey, the smaller our own survey sample will be so encourage your neighbours, friends, and family who live in Prince George to do the survey because we want our sample to be as comprehensive as possible.
What can we do with the data once we have it?
According to the Cities Economic Development Manager Melissa Barcellos, “Housing needs reports provide a snapshot of the current community demographics, the housing supply, and anticipated future housing needs. They are a tool for local governments to plan for future housing development.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. I also think there are a couple other benefits.
Once we have a comprehensive overview of our market housing data, we can advocate better for the type of housing we need in our community. We know there’s a shortage of supportive, affordable, senior, student, and diversified housing stock, but knowing it because we live here and being able to prove it are two different things. Survey’s confirm or disprove hypotheses and I’m certain this survey will prove what we know and help us with our housing advocacy moving forward.
How the data relates to the living wage
When data is collected for the Living Wage, calculators like myself are highly aware that the final living wage figure really is the lowest amount a person can earn without going into debt to just live in their community. It is a bare bones calculation and relying on CMHC for housing data greatly impacts that final living wage figure. Data collected from the housing needs assessment can be used in the Living Wage calculation as an alternative data source (communities that have already completed their assessments are already using this data in living wage calculations) and since the city is required to do a housing needs assessment every five years, we can add the CPI inflationary increases to the housing needs assessment data until the new survey is complete for a more accurate representations of our housing costs.
The why behind the ask
I’m a firm believer of informed decision making and our data – a lot of what we base our decisions off of – is only as good as the information we have. I wrote this blog to help give a more comprehensive overview of the why behind this ask in hopes that more residents will understand the importance of the housing needs assessment and take action by filling out the survey. If you’re not from Prince George, be sure to reach out to your own community and ask them about your housing needs assessment.
If I’ve missed something you think should be included or if you ever want to have a conversation about housing, market research, or even nerd out over census data, please reach out to me. My contact details can be found on the Contact section of my website.
All my best,