British Columbia

Mayor of Vancouver calls on province to create rent bank, ban tenant evictions during pandemic

Ottawa announced it will release emergency funds and banks have agreed to allow mortgage payment deferrals for six months, but for thousands of B.C. renters financial relief has yet to come.

Kennedy Stewart says he has spoken with B.C. NDP and expects action soon

Advocates say it is not fair to provide financial relief to homeowners and not renters during the coronavirus pandemic and want the province to pony up. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

Many British Columbia renters are worried about how to keep a roof over their head during the COVID-19 crisis and the mayor of Vancouver is now throwing his weight behind calls for the province to help.

The federal government already announced it will release emergency funds to Canadian households and Canada's six largest banks have agreed to allow mortgage payment deferrals for six months.

But for thousands of tenants, and especially those living hand-to-mouth, financial relief specifically for housing has yet to come.

"We've asked for not only an eviction ban but also help for renters," said Mayor Kennedy Stewart on The Early Edition Thursday.

The City of Vancouver has a rent bank that can provide no-interest loans to low-income renters when they are in a tough spot. Stewart said staff are overwhelmed by the number of current requests and there is not enough available to help everyone.

In the 2019 budget, the province granted $10 million to the Vancity Community Foundation, a non-profit foundation associated with Vancity credit union, to develop a sustainable, province-wide rent bank system. Vancity works with a group of community rent banks to help renters facing eviction.

Stewart wants the government to set up a rent bank similar to Vancouver's and open it up to all British Columbians.

He said he has been in close contact with the B.C. NDP and expects it will take action to help renters soon.

In an emailed statement to CBC, B.C.'s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said all options are being considered to support housing stability for renters and it is working to ensure people are not evicted.

'This is a crisis time'

The Vancouver Tenants Union is also pushing the province to pony up during the pandemic and put money in renter's pockets. And fast.

Spokesperson David Hendry said money from Ottawa could come too late for tenants to pay their April rent.

"This is crisis time and the people at the bottom are the ones who need the most help," said Hendry, adding things were already hard for B.C. renters before the coronavirus outbreak.

Hendry said it is unfair to offer reprieves to homeowners and not renters, when renters are often indirectly paying their landlord's mortgage.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union which has nearly 80,000 members across the province, issued a statement earlier this week calling on the federal and provincial governments to immediately pause all mortgage and rent payments until the COVID-19 crisis is over. 

The B.C. Federation of Labour issued a similar statement Thursday.

"People are worried about making rent or mortgage payments, about keeping their homes. The last thing we need is folks facing eviction" said Laird Cronk, president of the federation.

The organization is asking the province to supplement federal programs and income supports to make sure no British Columbians are evicted during the public health emergency.

Carla Qualtrough, federal minister of employment, said Ottawa will work with the banks who are deferring mortgage payments so there will be a beneficial ripple effect for renters.

She said Ottawa is working with the financial institutions to make it a condition for landlords that if they take a mortgage deferral they do not take rent money too.

"My understanding is they will make conditional arrangements that they will have to pass that on to renters," said Qualtrough.

She said it would not be fair to give landlords a windfall of money and let them sit back and reap those rewards.

"Peoples lives and livelihoods and ability to feed their kids are on the line here," said Qualtrough.

Rent is due, no exceptions

Matt Cote is a renter in Revelstoke, B.C., and he was sent a notice this week informing him that "in light of the coronavirus" his rent is still due on April first, no exceptions.

Cote lives in a four bedroom house with three roommates. It is managed by Revelstoke Property Services, the biggest property management company in town with 250 rental units.

"Imagine a situation where we are trying to stop the spread of a virus and you all of a sudden are going to have a bunch of homeless people because of the same virus," said Cote.

Nico Leenders, the company's property rental manager, told CBC he hasn't seen any announcement from the province about rental support for tenants and, as a result, sent the notice to remind renters it is still business as usual.

 "We are still expecting them to pay their rent on the first as always," said Leenders.

Revelstoke Property Services changed its approach after speaking with CBC.

Tenants received a follow-up notice Thursday apologizing if the initial letter caused stress and asking anyone unable to pay their rent to contact the company and work it out.

With files from Bob Keating, The Early Edition

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