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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Applying for Subsidized Housing in BC

Erin Smandych

Reprinted from the "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1), pp. 13-14

The wait for subsidized housing can be long and stressful. There are many more people on the applicant list than there are homes available. Over 80,000 people in British Columbia currently receive housing subsidies from BC Housing. As of March 31, 2007, there were 14,228 people on the applicant list.

Subsidized housing—What? Who?

Subsidies and rental assistance are provided by the provincial government and by non-profit housing societies. Public and non-profit housing is intended for people with low incomes, including those who receive income assistance. Rent supplements available through BC Housing (Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters and the Rental Assistance Program) are not available to people on income assistance.

Subsidized housing in BC takes several forms:

  • Public housing: Owned and managed by BC Housing, a provincial crown agency. BC Housing is responsible for tenant selection and is the landlord.

  • Non-profit housing: Owned and managed by local non-profit housing societies. The housing provider selects tenants and is the landlord. The housing society sets its own policies.

  • Housing co-operatives: Managed by the members who live there. Members are responsible for new member selection.

Subsidized housing—How? Where?

The Housing Registry is a partnership between BC Housing, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, non-profit housing providers, housing co-operatives, municipalities, information and referral service groups, and other community-based organizations. It provides its members with a database of applicant information they can access when units become available.

Many non-profit and co-operative housing providers are members of the Housing Registry. BC Housing is also a Housing Registry member and uses the database to fill units as they become available.

You only need to complete one application form to be considered for subsidized housing at all the member sites. However, a section of the application form allows you to note preferred locations; you can choose cities, towns or specific buildings. You must apply on your own. If you feel unable to follow up on your own, you may sign a release form allowing any further correspondence to go through a family member or friend.

Applicants should familiarize themselves with the Housing Listings, an online resource directory that provides maps and addresses of subsidized housing developments across the province for families, seniors and people with mental and/or physical disabilities. These listings include a variety of helpful information, including how to apply to specific developments. They are available at

The Housing Listings also includes information on developments where the individual housing providers maintain their own applicant lists and fill vacancies from these lists. If you want to be considered for a home in these sites, you need to apply directly to them.

How are people chosen for subsidized housing?

Some housing providers use chronological wait-lists; however, many others prioritize applicants according to need. Priority for developments managed by BC Housing is given to people with the greatest need. These include women and children fleeing abuse; people at risk of homelessness; people with chronic health issues, including frail seniors and people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities or substance use issues; and families and youth.

Non-profit and co-operative housing providers often have different criteria for choosing residents. Some use a first-come, first-served system, while others use a point system to determine greatest need. Co-ops accept new members based on their willingness to participate in running the development, as well as their need.

Wait times are unpredictable as they depend on the number of unit turnovers and the needs of other applicants.

Important things to remember when applying for subsidized housing

Take time to review the Housing Listings:

  • It is important that you only select buildings or areas you are willing to move to.

  • Warning: Your file with the Housing Registry will be cancelled if you refuse two offers of housing.

  • Be sure to find out what the rules about refusing offers of housing are for housing providers in the Housing Listings that manage their own wait-lists.

Provide a way for the housing provider to contact you:

  • A housing provider needs to reach you quickly and reliably when a unit becomes available.

  • Provide a daytime phone number or the name and number of a contact person who can take a message.

  • If you do not have a phone, this contact person can be a friend, family member or outreach worker.

Keep your application up-to-date:

  • Let the Housing Registry know if you move, if the number of people living with you changes, if you receive a rent increase or if you have a change in your household income.

  • At a minimum, you must contact the Housing Registry at least once every six months to keep your application active.

  • You can contact the Housing Registry by phoning a toll-free number or stopping by their office.*

Find out what the updating requirements are for housing providers that are not in the Housing Listings but are not members of the Housing Registry.

Be realistic:

  • The Housing Registry does not provide emergency housing.

  • It is not possible for the provider to know when a unit may become available.

  • There are more people looking for housing than available units. This means that some applicants may never receive an offer of housing.

  • Being too specific about which building you want can delay the process. If you really only want to live in the one building that is walking distance from your children's school, understand that your wait may be very long.

Pursue other housing options:

  • Consider applying directly to those housing providers identified on the Housing Listings as managing their own applicant lists.

  • Contact the Housing Registry to see if you meet the eligibility requirements for programs that provide cash assistance with monthly rent payments in the private market.† The Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program assists eligible seniors over age 60, while the Rental Assistance Program assists low-income working families.

  • If you are connected with Mental Health Services, speak to your case manager to discuss other possible housing options.

For more on applying for housing, or to find out the elligibility requirements for rest assistance programs: phone The Housing Registry at 604-433-2218 or 1-800-257-7756 toll-free from outside the Lower Mainland; drop in at #101-4555 Kingsway in Burnaby; or visit online.

About the author
Erin has been Manager of Housing Services for BC Housing since 1996. She joined BC Housing in 1990 and took on a variety of roles in Housing Services, including helping people apply for subsidized housing.


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