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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.

Finding Subsidized Housing or Supportive Housing

Gail Burak and Erin Smandych

Reprinted from the "Housing" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 8 (1), pp. 7-10

Stable housing is a key factor in having good health. The Province of British Columbia offers supportive and subsidized housing, through the provincial government agency, BC Housing. Subsidized housing is also provided by non-profit societies and co-operative associations. (See sidebar.)

The following information will help you understand the application process, what’s involved and what type of housing is right for you.

Independent subsidized housing

Subsidized housing provides a range of housing options to those most in need, including seniors, people with mental or physical disabilities, individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, women and children fleeing abusive relationships, Aboriginal people, and low-income families. Tenants pay rent based on their income (generally 30% of income), or, for those on income assistance, they pay a flat rate determined by family size.

BC Housing manages 7,800 units of subsidized public housing. Non-profit societies manage affordable housing with subsidies from BC Housing. Housing co-operatives also run affordable housing developments, some with funding from BC Housing.

People who live in subsidized housing need to be able to independently maintain their personal health and well-being in a self-contained living unit. They must also fulfill tenancy obligations, including paying rent, caring for their unit, and maintaining appropriate relations with neighbours.

Applicants who require supports to live independently and fulfill their tenancy obligations will be considered if they are able to demonstrate that the required supports are available in the community.

The application process

For housing developments that are managed by members of The Housing Registry (see sidebar), application forms are available from the BC Housing website at, and from its office locations. However, for non-profit and co-operative housing providers that are not part of The Housing Registry, people must apply to the individual housing providers.

Some housing providers, whether part of The Housing Registry or not, give priority to applicants who have a serious health condition that is affected by their current housing—including mental illness or addiction. These applicants may choose to submit an additional application form called The Housing Registry Supplemental Application Form.1 This form collects specific information from a third party who can verify the applicant’s current housing situation or health condition. The third-party verifier could be a health care professional, a case manager or a social worker.

Applicants who are applying to live in a BC Housing directly managed development can disclose a mental illness and/or addictions on The Housing Registry Application Form.2 Or, they can request priority by providing the supplemental application form with the third-party verifier.

These applicants will be contacted for a meeting with a BC Housing health services coordinator. The health services coordinator is a mental health professional, such as a nurse or social worker, who meets with the applicant to discuss their support needs and the housing that would best meet these needs.

When applying for housing, it’s important to be specific about which housing developments you wish to live in. It is also advisable to stay close to where your social and health supports are located. However, being too specific about which building they want can delay the process. For example, if the applicant really only wants to live in the one building that is walking distance from their children’s school, their wait may be very long.

How are people chosen for subsidized housing?

In developments managed by BC Housing, priority is given to people with the greatest need. These include women and children fleeing abuse; people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; people with health issues, including frail seniors and people with mental illnesses, physical disabilities or substance use issues; and families.

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 needs or length of time on the wait-list.

Supportive housing

Supportive housing is subsidized housing managed by non-profit housing societies that provide ongoing supports and services to the residents. It’s for people who cannot live independently and who are not expected to become fully self-sufficient. To be eligible you must be a low-income adult who is homeless or at risk of homelessness and who requires support services to achieve a successful tenancy. Tenants pay rent for their units, with rates based on their income source.

Supportive housing provides people who have complex challenges or care needs with the support services necessary to help them live as independently as possible. Support services may include 24/7 staffing, life skills training, employment preparation, meal programs, and referrals to other community resources.

BC Housing is working in partnership with non-profit societies and local communities to develop a range of supportive housing options.5 One option is single room occupancy hotels owned by BC Housing and managed by non-profit housing providers. Other partnerships include working with the Provincial Homelessness Initiative and with eight municipal governments to develop housing that is managed by non-profit societies.

Many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness—many of whom have mental illnesses and/or addictions—are finding places to live in supportive housing developments.

The application process

The Supportive Housing Registration (SHR) application and registration service was developed in recent years to provide a single point of access for supportive housing that is funded through BC Housing. The goal is to facilitate the transition from homelessness to supportive housing by allowing applicants and the agencies supporting them to submit only one application, rather than registering with multiple providers.

The SHR application form3 is available on the BC Housing website, at BC Housing offices around the province, and from many non-profit housing providers that assist people in their search for housing. (Some non-profit housing providers also operate emergency shelters or outreach programs and can be the first point of contact for people in need of supportive housing.) In addition, lists of supportive housing developments in the Lower Mainland and in other areas of the province are also available on the BC Housing website. If you know of a supportive housing development in your community, inquire directly with the non-profit housing provider.

How are people chosen for supportive housing?

All supportive housing developments funded by BC Housing are operated by non-profit providers. These operators select tenants from those who complete the SHR application; criteria for selecting tenants may vary from operator to operator.

Some of the housing sites are for women only; others have an Aboriginal focus. There are both low-barrier and high-barrier sites, with high-barrier ones having zero tolerance for ongoing drug and/or alcohol use.

People seeking supportive housing should be low-income adults who require services to achieve successful tenancies and are homeless or at risk of homelessness, have mental and/or physical health needs, and need safe, affordable housing. Or, they may be current supportive housing tenants applying to a supportive housing location that will better meet their needs.

Supportive Housing: Addiction Recovery Program

BC Housing provides 93 units of transitional supportive housing to people in recovery from problematic substance use. This is the only supportive housing offered in BC Housing owned and directly managed sites. (Transitional housing, in general, is housing that is provided for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of two to three years.)

The BC Housing Addiction Recovery Program is an 18-month program. It is available in the Vancouver Coastal and the Fraser Health regions to individuals who have completed detox and support recovery programs funded by the health authorities. Applicants must have demonstrated a commitment to recovery and have abstained from substance use for at least three months. They must also have a personal recovery plan and the skills and abilities to live independently with minimal supports.

Program coordinators will work closely with clients who experience minor relapses, providing they are willing to seek treatment. Major relapses may require the client to return to detox and more intensive recovery programs.

The application process

People must contact their health authority. For Vancouver Coastal Health, call Access Central at 1-866-658-1221. For Fraser Health, call 604-694-7445 (no toll-free number is currently available for people living in the Fraser Health region).

How are people chosen for the Addiction Recovery Program?

The BC Housing units are allocated by chronological order from a waiting list managed by the health authorities. Program coordinators are funded by the health authorities and work in BC Housing’s Vancouver’s office for directly managed operations. They are responsible for the clinical assessment and placement of applicants into BC Housing subsidized units.

Program participants may be eligible to transfer into subsidized housing upon successful completion of the Addiction Recovery Program, providing they meet BC Housing criteria for subsidized housing.

About the authors

Gail is BC Housing’s Senior Manager of Health Services and has been with the provincial agency since 1991. She has a psychiatric nursing diploma and is the recipient of an Excellence in Administration and Leadership Award from the College of Psychiatric Nurses of BC

Erin is BC Housing’s Director of Applicant Services. She joined the organization in 1990 and has taken on a variety of roles, including helping people apply for subsidized housing

  1. The Housing Registry Supplemental Application Form:
  2. Applicants may disclose a mental illness and/or addictions in Sections 7c, 7d and 7e of The Housing Registry Application Form:
  3. For more on supportive housing, visit
  4. The Supportive Housing Registration Application Form:


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