The B.C. government’s recently-announced rental aid package has renters feeling cautiously optimistic while landlords remain skeptical.
The aid included three main points: No evictions amid COVID-19, a rent freeze and $500 per month for up to four months for people affected by the crisis. Renters will apply for the funding but it will flow directly to landlords. For their part, Premier John Horgan asked landlords to work with tenants and pass on savings from recently-announced mortgage deferrals.
In Golden, Alice Phillips, a single mom with a five-year-old daughter, said any help is welcome after she got laid off from two hospitality jobs.
“Of course it would help,” she said. “[But] it doesn’t cover the full cost of my rent.”
That cost, for Phillips, is $1,300 a month. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., that’s pretty standard for B.C.
The CMHC found that an average studio apartment costs $1,118 a month to rent, while a one-bedroom costs $1,260, a two-bedroom costs $1,468, and a three-bedroom costs $1,691.
But for Phillips, although the money would help in future months, she would be strapped for cash if she pays April’s rent, with little money left for other necessities. She worked two jobs: as a server at a ski resort and as bartender.
“Both of them are service industry jobs and both of them I make less than minimum wage, so I rely on tips,” she said.
“Usually I use my tips to go towards rent, to go towards groceries.”
Last week, she was forced to go to the food bank instead after both the ski resort and the bar shut down, laying her off.
Neither place is paying wages while they’re shut down and Phillips only found out the ski resort she works for shut down when she saw the announcement on Facebook.
“Most of us woke up the next morning and it was like, yeah, all the resorts are shut down,” she said. “We got no warning.”
It’s left Phillips scrambling about what to do.
“It’s really stressful and it’s really hard not knowing,” Phillips said. Even though she cannot be evicted for not paying rent, she’s worried about retaliation from her landlord after the moratorium is over.
But landlords aren’t necessarily pleased either. LandlordBC said it was “pleased” with the $500 monthly payments going directly to landlords.
“We are also pleased that the government was very clear that renters have a responsibility to pay their rent,” the organization said in a press release.
But the organization was not happy the rent freeze, which it said it would comment on at a later date, nor the ban on evictions. That moratorium, it said, could have “huge unintended repercussions” on landlords and the entire industry.
As a renter, Phillips said she was frustrated to see “nothing concrete” about any of the announced assistance. The province has said that people won’t be able to apply for the $500 rent supplement, paid out through BC Housing, until early April – past the rent deadline at the start of the month.
Other supports from the province, including a $1,000 one-time emergency payment, won’t come till May. On the federal side, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, a promised $2,000 monthly payment for workers negatively affected by COVID-19, won’t have an application portal up and running until April 6.
In an email to Black Press Media, the housing ministry urged landlords to encourage their tenants to apply for the rental supplement.
“Where tenants are not paying rent in full, landlords should keep a record of how much rent is owed,” the ministry said.
But the ministry did not clarify what would happen after the COVID-19 crisis abated, and if, and how fast, tenants would be required to pay back missed rent.
“There will be more challenges ahead as this unfolds and as B.C. recovers. We will be working with landlords and renters to find a fair way forward for everyone.”