The term subsidized housing gets used a lot. Learn what it means and find out if you are eligible.

Please note: BC Housing has temporarily suspended applications for subsidized housing during COVID-19. 

In British Columbia, subsidized housing refers to apartments, townhouses and other housing properties that are either owned by or under operating agreements with BC Housing. The purpose of subsidized housing is to provide affordable housing for people who are low income earners. The rent is calculated at 30% of your gross income.

For example, if you are a senior collecting Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), you income is probably around $1600 per month. This means that your rent would be 30% of $1600 or $480 per month. It could be a bit higher if there is a minimum rent amount set.

To find out if you are eligible to live in subsidized housing, I’ve simplified the general criteria as sourced from BC Housing (subject to change, of course). Here is the condensed version of the requirements to apply to the Housing Registry:

You must fall into one of the eligible groups:

  • Family – minimum of two people, including one dependent child.
  • Senior – age 55 or older, or a couple where at least one person is age 55 or older.
  • People with disabilities – Those who can live independently and are in receipt of a recognized disability pension or are considered disabled for income tax purposes.
  • Single people and couples – You are a single person, or a couple, with a low income and homeless, or at risk of homelessness. In addition, you do not meet the definitions of seniors or people with disabilities.

Residency requirements:

You must permanently reside in British Columbia when applying, and each member of the household must be one of the following: Canadian citizen, Permanent Resident, refugee sponsored by the Government of Canada or an individual who has applied for refugee status.

Income requirements:

  • Gross household income must be below certain income limits, as established by the Housing Income Limits (HILs).
  • Seniors have different income limits based on your location. More details on BC Housing’s website.
Factors that might exclude you from consideration for The Housing Registry can include having a poor tenant history (unpaid rent, unacceptable behaviour, etc.), history of criminal activity, and more.

So how do you find out where these buildings are? Well, there is something called The Housing Listings. This is a list of nearly 1,330 properties in BC that are subsidized. This list also tells you how apply to each of these buildings. Some properties want you to apply to the organization that manages the building (often a non-profit society so they can screen each applicant). Others want you to apply directly to BC Housing.

How long does it take to get into subsidized housing? The demand for subsidized housing far exceeds the number of places available so the time frame to get into housing can depend on a number of factors. These factors can include how many people are on the wait list, how many places you applied to and what your current situation is. In rare cases, it can take as soon as a few weeks, but in most cases it takes months or even years.

For example, say you are living with a friend in an old mobile home and the park is very dusty because of the dirt roads. Now let’s say you have COPD (a lung disease) and the dust is worsening your ability to breathe. This could get you into subsidized housing much sooner than if you were someone who just wanted to move to save a little money.

How do I apply for subsidized housing? To apply, you will first need to review The Housing Listings to determine the buildings you would like to move into and find out what the application process is for each building. The listing will state if you need to apply by either:

  1. Applying to the Housing Registry. If the listing states that you need to apply to the Housing Registry, you can do this online, or print/mail a paper application, or phone 1-800-257-7756 to have an application mailed to you.
  2. Applying directly to the non-profit societies and co-operatives that manage their own application processes. Their contact information is always listed.

If you are at risk of homelessness, violence or have a serious health condition that is affected by your current place, you may want to consider having a Housing Registry Supplemental Form completed by someone who can verify your situation. This may help you get into housing sooner.

Once you have applied, it is important to keep BC Housing up to date if your current housing situation changes as this may impact your wait time.