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Faced with paying rent or buying food, B.C. renters hope for COVID-19 eviction ban
VANCOUVER -- After restaurants and other businesses shut down abruptly last week, workers did the math, and many found they wouldn’t be able to pay their April rent, and that future employment insurance payments won’t cover their monthly rent either.
- Update: On Wednesday afternoon, the government suspended evictions and announced a $500 renters' rebate
They’re hoping the B.C. government will put in place a moratorium on evictions, a measure Quebec and Ontario already introduced a week ago, as the province grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and extraordinary measures to contain it.
“I’m not really sure how I’m going to do it,” said Jessica Parker, a restaurant server whose last day of work was March 16. “I kind of want to keep the money that I have for food for next month.”
B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson, is set to announce more measures to protect renters Wednesday at 1:15 p.m.
But tenant advocates were dismayed on Monday, when Premier John Horgan did not announce an eviction moratorium as he rolled out a wide-ranging relief program.
Parker, 27, was in the midst of moving from an apartment in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood to one in Chinatown, and had already dipped into her savings to cover paying the $900-a-month rent on both apartments for March in order to secure the new rental.
From what Parker has been able to determine based on information on the federal government’s website, EI payments — usually 55 per cent of a worker’s earnings — will not be enough to pay for her rent and leave enough for basics like food. As a server, Parker’s income normally includes tips, but her base wage is just $12.70 an hour, B.C.’s minimum wage for restaurant servers.
She’s now waiting to hear what the government will do before approaching her new landlord to tell him about the situation.
While the B.C. government has offered a $1,000 one-time payment to people whose employment was affected by coronavirus, and the federal government has also introduced extra benefits, it’s unclear whether that money will flow to workers in time to pay April’s rent.
Chelsea Alice last worked on March 13. Alice works as a supervisor of costumes in Vancouver’s film industry, and she isn’t sure when the industry could restart. Like Parker, she thinks it could be months before she’s back at work.
Alice, 26, is now spending her days calling the federal government to apply for employment insurance. She’s called a total of 163 times over the past few days, but with a million Canadians applying for EI last week alone, she hasn’t been able to get through yet.
Alice said she has savings she can draw on as the end of the month nears and the rent comes due. But she said she knows many other people who also work in the film industry who won’t be able to cover Vancouver’s high rents as the entire industry grinds to a halt, one of many sectors that has shut down in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Alice said that with Metro Vancouver’s very high rents, she’d like to see either the federal or provincial government step in to provide higher EI benefits.
In a letter to provincial ministers sent on March 23, Metro Vancouver mayors said that rents in Metro Vancouver are the highest in the country, and asked the province to halt evictions.
Hedy Fry, the Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, wrote about the plight of some renters in her riding on Twitter on March 24, and said she had asked Robinson to ban evictions.
“While some landlords negotiate, I have reports of others who ‘slip advance warning notes’ under their doors,” she wrote.
But LandlordBC, an industry association for landlords, has warned that eviction moratoriums could have “huge unintended consequences and will put the entire rental housing ecosystem at risk” if tenants do not pay their rent and landlords lose revenue.
Instead, LandlordBC said governments should continue to provide relief programs to unemployed workers so they can continue paying their rent. LandlordBC is also “strongly encouraging” landlords to delay planned rent increases.