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Metro Vancouver mayors call on province for cash, support for renters and landlords

Housing Minister Selina Robinson announces and interim Business Property Tax Relief program .
Housing Minister Selina Robinson announces and interim Business Property Tax Relief program . Richard Zussman/Global News

Metro Vancouver mayors are asking the provincial government to cover lost revenues from community centre closures, to defer tax payments and to provide financial assistance to both renters and landlords.

A three-page letter signed by most of Metro Vancouver’s mayor details four requests from the municipal to Premier John Horgan and Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson.

One the priorities from the mayors is support for all renters and landlords.

“Many individuals will lose income and be unable to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Evictions should be prohibited,” the letter reads.

“Rather, to ease the burden of paying rent, the province should augment federal government support to those in financial difficulty to help pay rent, particularly in Metro Vancouver where rental fees are high. Ensuring rent payments ensures that small landlords with mortgage helpers are able to maintain their homes.”

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READ MORE: Rent freezes, eviction deferrals needed amid coronavirus fallout: experts

Horgan has promised no British Columbians will be evicted due to COVID-19. The provincial government is set to unveil supports for renters on Wednesday.

The mayors are calling for an expansion of the Provincial Property Tax Deferment Program to include all property owners, including residential, business and non-profit properties.

B.C. government unveils $5-billion aid package to help people, businesses impacted by COVID-19 pandemic
B.C. government unveils $5-billion aid package to help people, businesses impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

The mayors are concerned about a growing number of residents, small business owners and non-profit organizations that are unable to pay their rent or tax payments.

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According to the letter, the change makes economic sense because these fully secured loans pose minimal risk to the province and can be extended over a period of time to ease the liquidity crunch.

“They need measures now to survive this crisis,” the letter reads.

“Expanding the existing PPTDP to cover all residents, businesses and non–profits would provide some piece of mind and could save many businesses from closing permanently. This action is needed without delay. Some of these businesses and non-profits provide important services that must remain available during this crisis.”

Home owners are concerned about property tax bills coming this summer. In Vancouver the due date is July 3.

Growing push to ban evictions during coronavirus pandemic
Growing push to ban evictions during coronavirus pandemic

The mayors are asking the province to consider extending the due date for taxes owed by the local governments so they can extend deadlines for property taxes.

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“Local governments collect taxes according to set dates on behalf of other taxing authorities such as the Province, TransLink, Metro Vancouver and other regional bodies,” the letter reads.

“Under current rules and legislation, if a local government was to delay municipal tax and OTA levies collection it would still be responsible for the payment of millions of dollars in OTA levies, which most local government are unable to absorb.”

OTA’s or other taxing authorities includes the school tax and TransLink tax added to a property tax bill.

The final request is direct and unconditional grants to cover revenue losses. This includes funding from the province to cover the cost of closing community centres and cancelling events and programs.

“By law, local governments cannot run a deficit or borrow to balance operating budgets. At the same time, the majority of local government operating budgets are funded from property tax and utility fees,” the letter reads.

“Direct financial support to cities in the form of unconditional grants will help ensure cities can continue to offer the essential services residents and businesses need for their health, safety and well-being during this trying time.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Municiapal Affairs and Housing says it is committed to listening to the emerging needs of local governments to deal with the pandemic and working closely with them.

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“Regarding the request for protection for renters and landlords, as the Premier has said, no one will be evicted because of COVID-19. We are finalizing a comprehensive rental package and will be releasing that on Wednesday, March 25th,” the statement reads.

“We thank the Metro Vancouver mayors for their faith in the Province’s leadership and their commitment to work with us as we do our best to help people and businesses get through this stressful time.”

Letter to Premier Horgan and Minister Robinson RE COVID-19 funding by Simon Little on Scribd