Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, the premier’s advisor on rental housing, has been tasked with gathering information and feedback on how to handle rental issues emerging due to COVID-19.
During a press conference, Premier Horgan said these are among the many issues the province has on its plate, and government is looking at next steps, using a cross-governmental approach.
"It's not just individual renters that are concerned. Businesses who have rents to pay and no customers coming in the door are equally concerned. So we have a whole range of issues that are piling up and we're looking at what mechanisms we have to assist these individuals," he said at the press conference March 17.
"But I want to stress, as I did on Friday, the objective of our government is to provide services for people. That's why we're here. We do not want to come up short. I've made that clear to deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland in our daily discussions — that we all need to work on this together."
Chandra Herbert, meanwhile, headed up the three-person rental housing task forced that criss-crossed the province in 2018 to come up with recommendations to modernize the Rental Tenancy Act.
Chandra Herbert is now reaching out to many of the same people and groups he dealt with on that file to make short-term and long-term recommendations with respect to the impact coronavirus will have on renters and rental housing.
“It's quick work in terms of short-term [recommendations] given rents come due at the end of the month. We'll have to be looking at that as an issue. We're looking at how to support renters, but also landlords — there's a number of smaller landlords [for whom] the rent cheque is often also the mortgage cheque,” he told the Courier March 17.
“Tomorrow, I understand, the federal government will be making major announcements around rents, in part. We don’t have an early preview of that, but it will inform the work.”
Chandra Herbert has already put out calls to organizations such as the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre and LandlordBC. Within government, he’ll be checking in with B.C. Housing, as well as Vancouver and Victoria’s rental advisory committees.
“It’s not everybody under the sun — we have to work faster than that — but I'm doing my best to get out to as many folks that have key experience in this work,” he said. “I’ve set my own deadline — as soon as possible. The sooner we can get action, the sooner people have some peace of mind, which is in short supply right now.”
Challenges are numerous as April 1 approaches and rent becomes due. Some workers have already lost jobs while others are at risk of losing them. Some residents are in quarantine or self-isolation. Landlords of smaller and larger buildings, meanwhile, as well as those who rent suites in their homes, face mortgage payments.
“[Some renters] may not be able to get rent money because they're not working or they may have been laid off — if you're a casino worker or somebody in the entertainment industry, for example — the film business,” Chandra Herbert said. “In many cases, people are one paycheque away from not being able to afford rent.”
But, he added, some relief sooner than later, depending what the federal government announces Wednesday.
“CMHC on the federal level has said they're looking at mortgage deferrals and questions like that. But really, [after] we hear what the federal cabinet is announcing tomorrow, we'll see what we, as a province, needs to do,” he added.
“They have a considerable fiscal firepower at their disposal. We'll watch them and then see what more we can do. Certainly, we've been encouraging the federal government to look at the challenge of renters, of course, the challenge with mortgage holders, people in the gig economy who might not qualify for EI, and that kind of thing.”
Under the province’s current Residential Tenancy Act, meanwhile, evictions are still possible — an issue renters’ advocates want addressed. Changes could come.
“Most folks aren't paying rent until the end of this month, so it's all on the table,” Chandra Herbert said.