Growing calls to suspend rent, halt evictions due to COVID-19 pandemic
VANCOUVER -- As more and more workers face possible layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are growing calls for the government to step in and ensure no one is left homeless during the crisis.
The Vancouver Tenants Union is calling for B.C. to issue an immediate moratorium on evictions and suspend rent across the board in order to protect the people who need help most.
Spokesperson David Henry pointed to a 2019 survey that found more than half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque with little or no savings that would help them weather the coming storm.
“It’s a real emergency,” Henry said. “The two things that people need in order to stay healthy during this crisis are a roof over their heads and some cash in their hands to get basic necessities – and that should be the priority for the government.”
The economic impacts of the pandemic and the government’s containment efforts, which include a directive to stay socially isolated, have left many industries struggling and workers fearful about their job security.
That includes Mary Dyck, a 29-year-old Abbotsford resident who does speech and behaviour therapy for children with developmental disabilities. Since the COVID-19 situation began ramping up in B.C., there has been less and less work to do at her clinic.
“There were a lot of tears this week – people just trying to sort out what they’re going to do,” she told CTV News.
Dyck had to collect employment insurance last year due to a health issue, and the process drained her savings and left her dreading what would happen should she end up jobless during the pandemic.
“It pretty much covered my rent, my car insurance and my student loan payment and nothing else,” she said. “It’s pretty nerve wracking for me right now just thinking about having to go back to that.”
The Vancouver Tenants Union said it’s calling for universal rent relief – not just for those who have already been laid off but for all renters – because the process of means testing people would take too long and be too onerous.
Henry said landlords should all be allowed to defer their mortgage payments so they don’t lose out either, but that he would support government subsidies for landlords instead if that’s what’s required.
Canada’s big banks have already said they're preparing to offer mortgage deferrals to people hurt by the COVID-19 crisis, but there has been little concrete relief announced for tenants.
“If landlords aren’t having to pay their mortgage it would be nice to give the people who are paying their mortgages typically a break as well,” Dyck said. “We’re all struggling.”
Asked about the Vancouver Tenants Union’s call, B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing acknowledged people are facing “incredibly challenging times” and said that “all options are on the table to support housing stability for renters.”
“We are working to make sure people are not evicted because of this crisis,” the ministry said in an email.
“Government is making key decisions in the coming days and weeks that will bring relief for people, including supports for renters, along with other COVID01i related issues.”
The province added that it has already instructed non-profit partners not to evict anyone from buildings funded by B.C. Housing due to non-payment of rent during the crisis.
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Emad Agahi