Home Business & Economy Housing BC Greens call for urgent renter support

BC Greens call for urgent renter support

rent, increase

Tuesday February 6, 2024 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated 1:10 pm]

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

The situation for many renters in British Columbia is increasingly dire and the BC Greens are running with that politically.

The housing affordability crisis “strikes at the heart of our province”, said BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau in a media session this morning in downtown Victoria.

sonia furnstenau, adam olsen, lisa gunderson
BC Greens present rental protections in Victoria Feb 6, 2024. [livestream]

She wants to see housing “transformed from a commodity into a right”.

“Every resident in British Columbia deserve a secure and affordable home,” said Furstenau in her opening remarks.

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Three key measures:

Furstenau was joined by NDP House Leader Adam Olsen and BC Green Party Deputy Leader Dr Lisa Gunderson to present three immediate requests of the current government:

  • An increase to the household income cap for the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) from $40,000 to $70,000 in all areas of the province.
  • Increase for an income cap to SAFER in the Lower Mainland and other parts of the province to $45,000 for singles (up from $29,352 outside of the Lower Mainland) and $50,000 for couples (up from $31,992 outside of the Lower Mainland).
  • Rental rate protection program (vacancy control) to cap rent increases to prevent rent spikes between tenancies to a maximum of 3.5% starting in April 2024.

Benefit to homeowners not seen by renters:

Olsen said that the situation for renters is dire. “There is an urgency that the BC government needs to address”.

adam olsen
BC Greens House Leader Adam Olsen. MLA (Saanich North and The Islands) during press conference about renters, Feb 6, 2024 in Victoria. [livestrream]

Olsen noted in many lengthy statements in the BC Legislative Assembly last fall that the new housing legislation is a significant wealth transfer for property owners. But he points out how renters are being left behind.

Olsen did say it was a good thing that the BC Government increased their contribution to the BC Rent Bank. Last week another $11 million was directed to that project.

Budget 2024 coming up:

The support the proposed initiatives, the BC Greens suggest a doubling of the provincial budget item for rental assistance programs from $164 million up to $338 million, for the 2024/25 fiscal year.

Budget 2024 will be unveiled on February 22.

Housing insecurity:

“We are witnessing a staggering number of people — particularly renters — struggling with soaring housing costs. More than a quarter of renter households are spending over 30% of their income on renting,” said Furstenau today.

CMHC has since 1986 classified affordable housing as less than 30% of annual net household income, said Furstenau. “Anything more than that is classified as financially unaffordable and unsustainable and it leads to housing insecurity,” she said.

bc rent bank, logo

“People who rent in BC are faced with a deepening crisis. They need more support from this government,” said the BC Green Leader. “This isn’t just policy, it’s a lifeline,” said Furstenau in a comment directed at the current BC NDP government.

About 1.5 million people in BC are renters. About 38% of those are spending more than 30% of their household income on rent and utilities, with 16% paying over 50% (referred to as ‘extreme core housing need’).

“There really is no place for those people to go, from where they’re at,” said Olsen about the renters paying more than 50% of their income, should they be evicted or otherwise have to move. “This current government is completely ill-prepared to support those people,” said Olsen.

Shift to housing as a human right:

“It’s time to shift the focus from housing as a commodity to housing as human right. And every British Columbian deserves to have housing security right now. Too many renters in BC do not have that,” said Furstenau. She noted that inflationary pressure is produced by “an uncontrolled market”.

Last fall when Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon introduced and debated a suite of new housing legislation directions, he did identify that housing has become a commodity.

ravi kahlon, homes for people, fall session
Quick wrap-up for media about the housing legislation that has been passed this fall in the BC Legislative Assembly, Nov 30, 2023 in the upper rotunda. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Sense of safety:

There is a real sense of safety that comes with housing security. When people feel on any given day that their home scenario could be disrupted by market factors (through the decisions and actions of investment property owners and landlords).

Dr Gunderson said today that since 2016 there has been a 30% average increase in rent. “There is no restriction on how much landlords can increase rent when their unit becomes vacant,” she said at today’s media session. She noted that in 2023 there was a rental rate increase of more than 40% increase, with “no restrictions from the government to stop this”.

“This creates an incentive for landlords to evict tenants because they are able to increase the rent with no limit,” said Gunderson. “People cannot keep up with these increasing costs,” she said.

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Economic scope:

Future contributors to this province are being lost as more people cannot afford to live in BC, the Greens said today.

The BC Greens say that if their proposals are implemented it would provide “immediate relief to renters who are forced to allocate an unreasonable portion of their income to housing”.

People who earn minimum wage pay about 40% of their income on accommodation, with 50% being the level in VAncouver, according to CMHC stats quoted today by Gunderson.

Health impacts:

This is also about mental wellness. People are uprooted from homes where they have become embedded in communities. If teens need to move with their families it means starting afresh at another school during a critical phase of their education.

dumont tirecraft, wet roads

“That nagging voice in your head that your housing can shift at any time … you never feel safe. This anxiety, that’s what we have as renters. It’s an unnecessary stress that impacts us mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Gunderson today.

“It’s about providing a lifeline to people who are struggling to keep a roof over their head,” said Gunderson who is the Green candidate for Oak Bay-Gordon Head in the upcoming October 2024 provincial election.

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Island Social Trends posts local, regional and provincial news analysis daily at IslandSocialTrends.ca as well as biweekly in print (Premium subscribers receive a PDF of the print edition by email).

headshot, mary p brooke
Mary P Brooke, Editor & Publisher of Island Social Trends.

Island Social Trends began mid-2020 during the pandemic, in the footsteps of its predecessor West Shore Voice News (weekly in print 2014-2020) which was previously Sooke Voice News (weekly print 2011-2013).

Founder and editor for that entire series of news publications is Mary P Brooke. Ms Brooke now reports with the BC Legislative Press Gallery. She was nominated in 2023 for a Jack Webster Foundation journalism award for serving her community through journalism.