Action on Rising Rents Shows Government Cares about Affordability, Say Advocates

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It’s no longer ‘too bad, so sad’ to be a tenant in BC, they say.

That the British Columbian government has acted on a task force recommendation to slash the allowable rent increase for 2019 shows it’s serious about affordability, say advocates for tenants.

“We’re pleased with the announcement,” said Andrew Sakamoto, the executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre. “It’s following a trend here for this new government. To their credit, they’ve already made a number of changes… that benefit tenants.”

Karen Sawatzky, the chair of the City of Vancouver’s Renters Advisory Committee, said she’s glad about the change and that the government seems to have heard how desperate renters are.

It’s a welcome change, she said, adding that despite years of pressure from advocates for renters, the previous government took a “too bad, so sad” attitude that seemed to give preference to home ownership over renting.

Earlier in September, the government had said the allowable increase would be 4.5 per cent, a figure arrived at using a formula in place since 2004 that let rents rise at the rate of inflation plus an extra two per cent each year.

As increases compounded under the formula, The Tyee reported earlier this month, rents were able to rise by nearly 40 per cent more than they would have if they had risen at the rate of inflation alone.

On Monday, the government’s task force recommended allowing the cap to rise at the rate of inflation without the extra two per cent and to have landowners apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch if they feel they need to raise rents faster than inflation to cover their costs.

Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, chairs the task force. It also includes Ronna Rae Leonard, the NDP MLA for Courtenay-Comox, and Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who represents Saanich North and the Islands.

“The task force heard, as the Premier and I have heard, that people throughout British Columbia are struggling to make ends meet, and a 4.5 per cent increase after many years of increases is just too much,” Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson said Wednesday at an event in Vancouver with Premier John Horgan.

“We will be limiting the annual increase to inflation only,” she said, capping the increase for 2019 at 2.5 per cent.

Horgan, whose party ran in the 2017 election on a platform that stressed making life more affordable, said the government is doing what it can to reduce costs for people, referencing earlier moves to eliminate bridge tolls and shrink Medical Service Plan fees.

“Eliminating the additional two per cent rate increase will allow renters today to have some comfort that they’re only going to see their costs go up by the cost of living,” he said.

Ultimately there needs to be more housing supply that’s affordable for British Columbians to address the housing crisis, but Wednesday’s announcement would help, he said. “We have much more to do, but this is a good step in the right direction.”

The province has been working on a poverty reduction strategy, details of which will become available after the legislature resumes sitting Oct. 1, he said.

Speaking at the announcement, TRAC’s Sakamoto called it a “small sigh of relief” for the 1.5 million tenants in B.C.

“Rent has been just not affordable for the longest time,” said Nada Elmasry, a renter from New Westminster who spoke at the event. “I’m really happy to see this announcement to decrease the increase of rent.”

Rising rents are particularly hard on people working at minimum wage jobs who have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table, she said. They include people who have recently arrived in Canada who are struggling on the margins and find it impossible to make ends meet, she said.

The group Landlord BC had argued for continuing to allow rents to rise faster than inflation. “That’s something we need to operate our businesses and continue to invest in them,” CEO David Hutniak said earlier this week.

Since coming to power, the government has taken various steps to improve life for tenants, Sakamoto said. Measures include closing the fixed-term lease loophole that allowed landowners to raise rents each time a lease term ended, and increasing the notice and dispute period for renovictions and demovictions.

“Collectively, I think it does signal progress,” he said. “Certainly, compared to the previous government they’ve accomplished a lot more in a short period of time when it comes to improving the legal protection of tenants.”

There’s more to do, Sakamoto added. TRAC had encouraged the task force to recommend a three-year freeze on rents before allowing them to rise at the rate of inflation.

He said they’d also like to see the compensation increased when tenants are evicted for a renovation or demolition and to strengthen the right of first refusal for tenants who may want to return to a unit they’ve been temporarily evicted from.

“We’re expecting much more change moving forward as a result of this task force being appointed by the Premier,” he said.  [Tyee]