CTV News, Jen St. Denis, March 23 (with quotes from BCNPHA CEO Jill Atkey)
VANCOUVER — Tenant advocates say they’re concerned that the B.C. government has yet to announce a moratorium on evictions as thousands of renters worry they won’t be able to pay their rent because of the deep economic impact of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At a press conference Monday, Premier John Horgan said a more detailed plan to help renters would be announced on Wednesday. Horgan said no one will lose their rental housing because of COVID-19 — but, he said, evictions that are already in progress for other reasons will continue.
That concerns the Vancouver Tenants Union, who say they’ve now heard from 1,200 renters who won’t be able to pay their rent on April 1.
“They’re at risk of eviction and they are panicking,” said VTU organizer Mazdak Gharibnavaz in a statement.
Quebec, Ontario and several American cities have already put eviction bans in place in response to the wide-spread job loss created by COVID-19 measures.
Finance minister Carole James announced a one-time payment of $1,000 for people whose abiity to work has been affected by COVID-19, but Gharibnavaz said that wouldn’t be enough to keep tenants in their homes.
That payment is in addition to federal employment insurance benefits, and several other new federal benefits introduced for people whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19 containment measures.
James said she was encouraged to hear of landlords like the developer PortLiving, which is suspending in-progress evictions for buildings the company was planning to redevelop.
“I’m hopeful other landlords will show the same respect for their tenants in extraordinary times,” James said.
But Jill Atkey, the CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said the government must do more than rely on the goodwill of individual landlords. She said much of B.C.’s rental market is the secondary market, condos and basement suites owned by individual homeowners. While those homeowners can now apply for mortgage deferral and then theoretically pass the savings to their tenants, the government really does need to also look at an eviction moratorium, Atkey said.
“I know there are landlords out there who are looking to protect their renters, but that doesn’t extend to every landlord in the province,” Atkey said.
“So then we’re relying on luck and happenstance of having a kind and generous landlord.”
BC Housing has already told all non-profit housing operators to put in place a 90-day moratorium on evictions if people can’t pay their rent, and James said the government may also make changes to two rent supplement programs: the SAFER program, which helps seniors, and the RAP program, which is for low-income working parents with children.
But, Atkey warned, the government is going to have to move quickly to update the RAP program in particular: people are only eligible for that program if they are working, so those who recently lost their job are currently at risk of losing that supplement.
The B.C. NDP did have plans to create a provincial rent bank, Atkey said, but decided to fund municipal rent banks instead of creating a centralized one. What that decision means now is that the province has no way to immediately increase funding quickly to a province-wide rent bank, and many municipalities do not yet have their own rent banks set up.
Last week, Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, said that city’s rent bank has been completely overwhelmed by recent demand.