$500-a-month rental subsidy welcomed, but is it enough in B.C.’s market?

Jaylen Bastos said he was glad to hear of new protections for B.C. renters during the coronavirus pandemic. 

He may need them.

Bastos, 25, rents a suite in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood with two roommates for $2,767 per month. 

The full-time student was working as a rock climbing instructor, a manager at a cannabis dispensary and as a freelance web designer, but now all of those gigs have dried up. His roommates got laid off too. 

They couldn’t make April’s rent. Bastos said he offered to pay the landlord his third of the money but was turned down. The landlord wanted at least two thirds, which Bastos did not have.

“I want to pay but just can’t afford to,” Bastos said. “It’s a state of extreme stress and turmoil.”

On Wednesday, the province announced a suspension of evictions and a freeze on rent increases to help tenants make ends meet and keep their homes for the duration of the provincial COVID-19 emergency.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson, left, speaks at a Wednesday event announcing new protections and supports for renters and landlords during the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen many British Columbians lose work. Premier John Horgan, centre, and MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert are also pictured. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

But Bastos still has questions: how fast can he get that support? How easy will it be? And where will he live next?

Other renters and advocates are largely supportive of new measures, but some say more are needed.

‘A dire situation’

Derek White, 46, said he would have been OK for April but he didn’t think he’d be able to make May rent without help.

White was managing a small restaurant until he was laid off last Monday. A few days later, he said, the landlord of his three-storey walk-up in Vancouver’s West End slid notes under everyone’s doors reminding them rent was due on April 1 and any coming rent increases would still apply.

Derek White said his building is home to many seniors and people with disabilities. He’s hopeful the measures announced Wednesday will keep them housed during the pandemic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

“It just seemed they weren’t taking into consideration those … who were in more of a dire situation; there’s elderly, there are people with health injuries that aren’t able to have much of an income,” White said. “It just seemed to add insult to injury.”

White said he’s now in much better shape for May thanks to the province’s new measures and federal Employment Insurance changes.

“I can actually pay my rent, pay my bills, and actually have a little bit of money left over to eat,” White said.

‘They’re going to be able to stay in their homes’

Holly Popenia, a lawyer with Community Legal Assistance Society, a non-profit law firm for marginalized communities, said her group was receiving many calls from renters fearing the pandemic and economic crisis could cost them their homes.

“They’re going to be able to stay in their homes at this time where … every level of government and every doctor who can speak is telling them to stay in their homes,” Popenia said.

Alex Hemingway, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said he’s glad evictions are on hold and a rent freeze is in place but added the announced $500 per month subsidy is small change for some cities with sky-high rents, including Vancouver.

“What we need to be thinking about is actually increasing the levels of these benefits,” Hemingway said.

“We have the fiscal capacity to make sure everyone is taken care of and so I think our urgent priorities should be to get money out the door to people who need it as quickly as possible and at adequate levels.”

The province, he added, also needs to ensure adequate housing for people with disabilities and homeless people who are particularly at risk during the pandemic.

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