Organizers with a tenant advocacy group say they've received around 700 calls and emails from tenants worried they won't be able to pay their rent at the end of the month because of job loss from COVID-19 measures.
The Vancouver Tenants’ Union is calling on the provincial government to follow the lead of two other provinces and several American jurisdictions, and enact an immediate moratorium on evictions.
“A lot of people who are saying they won’t be able to pay — they don’t qualify for Employment Insurance, or the amount they would get is not enough to be able to cover rent,” said David Hendry, an organizer with the VTU.
But while Ontario and Quebec have both put eviction bans in place, B.C. is still working on a plan to help renters. On Saturday, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing, Selina Robinson, assured renters that help is coming soon.
"We do know that rent payment is coming up soon, and I want to assure those who are afraid of losing their home because they can't pay the rent, help is on the way," Robinson said, adding that the province needs to first see "how the federal government is responding on the issue and making sure we can backstop appropriately.”
Robinson said the plan the province is working on will not just address evictions: “It’s about how do they make rent, how do they feed their families, how to they pay their bills that are still going to come due.”
Hendry said the situations he’s hearing about include a group of roommates who rent a house and have been given an eviction notice for the end of March. They were ready to move, but several of them have now come down with an illness that could possibly be COVID-19.
Hendry has also heard from workers at Whistler Blackcomb who were laid off after the resort closed on March 15 — and have now been told they must leave staff housing as soon as possible.
A Whistler Blackcomb employee who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that laid-off workers have been getting calls and emails asking them to leave, and sent CTV News an email from Whistler Blackcomb’s parent company, Vail Resorts.
The email states that the company will not require anyone who has COVID-19 and has been advised to quarantine themselves to move, and offers to support anyone who “cannot leave for a variety of reasons.”
But, the email says, many ski resort towns want visitors and part-time residents to leave.
“Why? Our communities are currently operating under a state of emergency. People in dense housing with unrelated individuals are at increased risk of exposure,” the company’s email reads. “Transportation options are becoming limited and you may find restrictions leave you without options available.”
The worker who spoke with CTV News said he’s lived in Whistler full-time for three and a half years and has few options when it comes to finding another job or place to live with the current economic situation. Marc Ridell, a spokesman for Vail Resorts, said the company will try to assist year-round staff to find housing “in our inventory.”
The VTU is calling for a moratorium on eviction for any reason, including for non-payment of rent, landlord use of property and just cause. The VTU is also hoping the province’s solution doesn’t involve offering help through a rent bank program, because that would just put low-income renters further in debt, Hendry said.
“In an emergency situation, the No. 1 priority has to be keeping people in their homes and able to buy basic necessities,” Hendry said.
But Jon Stovell, the president of Reliance Properties, said it would be a mistake to ban evictions for any reason.
“A blanket restriction on evictions could allow a lot of people to say, 'Hey, they can’t evict me, I’m just going to not pay my rent even though I can,” said Stovell, whose company owns several rental buildings in Vancouver.
“I think somebody who’s demonstrated a need or a situation where they can’t pay rent should not be evicted for a time. It should be on a month-by-month basis and it should only be for non-payment of rent.”
Stovell said his company has suspended the upcoming eviction of 12 tenants in a building in Vancouver’s West End that Reliance plans to redevelop. And, Stovell said, his company has also deferred an annual rent increase for all tenants who rent in Reliance buildings, although tenants have not yet been informed of that deferral.
Stovell said that with all the extra help coming to people from extended federal employment insurance payments, people should be able to keep paying their rent — especially since they are being told to mostly stay home and won’t be able to spend money on much except rent and food.
But, with Vancouver’s rents some of the highest in the country, many people are discovering that EI benefits won’t cover the region’s sky-high rents, Hendry said.