Infographic: Pay Rent or Buy Groceries?

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub

This week’s infographic takes a look at the relationship that exists between affordable housing and food accessibility. The infographic comes from a series published by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) that were designed to help raise awareness about Canada’s affordable housing crisis. ONPHA is the voice of non-profit housing in Ontario, and the organization regularly works with its members to provide tools to develop and deliver high-quality affordable housing in the province.

Infographic by ONPHA - An Awful Choice: Paying Rent or Buying Groceries

The infographic states that housing is the single largest expense in most families’ budgets. As a result, families living with insufficient income are forced to choose between paying rent and buying groceries. According to a report by Campaign 2000 released last year, the average food bank client spends over 70% of their income on housing. The infographic also establishes that food bank use has rapidly increased in recent years. Food bank use in Ontario has increased by 45% over the past 20 years. A significant portion of this increase has happened very recently, particularly in 2014 the number of households using food banks increased by 20% for the first time.

Across Canada, food bank use has also been rising in recent years. From 2008-2014, Manitoba saw a 52.5% increase in the number of food bank users. Similar increases were observed in Saskatchewan (51.1%) and Alberta (48.2%). Canadian territories, in turn, have seen a 247% increase over the same period.

The Daily Bread Food Bank, the largest food emergency center in Canada, recently surveyed clients to get a better understanding of what was driving growing food bank use in the GTA. The organization found that after paying for rent, clients had an average of just $6.13 per day remaining for additional expenses. That’s just $6.13 left over to cover meals a day, transportation needs and any other expenses. Over 40% of respondents of the same survey who were receiving social assistance stated that there were times when they did not eat for an entire day.

When discussing what steps can be taken to address food insecurity, the conversation needs to be about more than just increasing funding for existing food bank services. Housing, food insecurity and poverty and inextricably linked for families struggling to afford housing.  By investing more in affordable housing, Canada is in turn helping to address issues of food insecurity.

Affordable housing investments can be viewed as a preventative approach against homelessness. While preventative approaches often require greater investment and commitment in the short-term, that’s a small price to pay for the benefits that come from addressing the causes, rather than the symptoms, of food insecurity and poverty.

Vineeth Sekharan is an undergraduate student in a psychology major at York University. His interest in the elimination of barriers to accessing vital services like housing and healthcare led him to work as a research student with The Homeless Hub. Vineeth’s other research interests include epidemiology, theories of power and persuasion, and literacy education. In his spare time, he likes to read a lot, write here and there, and then read some more.