BC Housing bans evictions as province works to help renters, homeowners amid coronavirus

B.C. government looking at all options to address housing issues amidst coronavirus spread.
B.C. government looking at all options to address housing issues amidst coronavirus spread. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

BC Housing is putting in place a temporary moratorium on eviction of tenants in subsidized and affordable housing.

“BC Housing is committed to preventing eviction of tenants and always considers eviction a last resort,” a letter on the BC Housing website reads.

“As you are aware, many tenants in subsidized housing are particularly vulnerable and face a combination of challenges in addition to their need for housing; it is probably that evictions would tax other social services. This is particularly true at this time, in light of the current COVID-19 situation.

The B.C. government is exploring other ways to address concerns from British Columbians unable to afford rent or mortgage payments amidst layoffs and work stoppages due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“All options are on the table,” Housing Minister Selina Robinson said. “We are working on ways to ensure people do not lose their homes and are not evicted because of this crisis. These are very urgent concerns for people and we will have more to say in the coming days.”

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The measures are set to be unveiled next week.

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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart had been calling on the province to temporarily ban evictions, as had the executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

“We really believe the starting point needs to be to keep people in their homes,” Andrew Sakamoto said.

“We cannot be moving people during a pandemic.”

Sakamoto said his organization is still working on its recommendations to the province on what can be addressed.

One potential solution is providing financial assistance to those who, because of COVID-19, can no longer afford rent. For most renters, the next cheque will be due April 1.

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“That is something that has to be explored — financial support for the many, many renters that have lost their jobs and simply cannot pay rent due to a global pandemic out of their control,” Sakamoto said.

He also suggested the province gives renters time to pay back owed rent after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

The province could also consider a moratorium on rent increases. Last year, B.C. restricted rent hikes to the rate of inflation. Previously, landlords were able to increase rent by inflation plus two per cent.

“Once this all blows over, there will be people who get their job back and are still in the hole. If they have to repay their rent, they will need some time to do that,” Sakamoto said.

He also wants the province to consider delaying Residential Tenancy Branch hearings, which are being done by phone for now, for those who are struggling with the process and rely on organizations like his to prepare.

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Canada’s big six banks are offering mortgage payment deferrals for up to six months for homeowners who are unable to make payments, as did Vancity credit union.

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The province is also looking at working with municipalities on payment of property taxes.

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