The B.C. government is offering renters up to $500 a month for the next three months to ensure British Columbians affected by the novel coronavirus crisis can keep paying for their home.
The support will be distributed through BC Housing and is part of the province’s $5-billion stimulus package, which includes $2.8 billion in support of individuals.
“With lost jobs and lost wages due to COVID-19, many tenants are worried they can’t make the rent. It’s a challenging time for landlords too,” Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.
The province also announced a moratorium on evictions, except in very limited circumstances including properties involved in crime.
The B.C. government is also applying a rent freeze effective April 1.
“Nobody should lose their home as a result of COVID-19. Our plan will give much-needed financial relief to renters and landlords. It will also provide more security for renters, who will be able to stay in their homes without fear of eviction or increasing rents during this emergency.”
There are 500,000 renter homes in British Columbia.
“We are assuming 100 per cent pickup and working back from here. The temporary renters’ supplement is designed to help those who have seen a drop-off of hours or seen a layoff notice,” Horgan said.
“If you have savings to cover this in the short term please do so we can get this money to those needing it most.”
The funds will be paid directly to landlords on the behalf of renters.
Benefiting people with low to moderate incomes, the supplement will be available to renters who are facing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, but do not qualify for existing rental assistance programs.
The province is promising a simple application process but knows the money won’t be there by April 1, the next due date for most rent cheques.
“We know it is going to take a while to get money to people, including the federal funds, that is why we put a moratorium on evictions,” Vancouver-West End MLA and rental task force chair Spencer Chandra Herbert said.
Advocacy group Leadnow says the ban on evictions is a ‘good first step’ but there are concerns over whether $500 will go far enough for renters.
“No one should have to choose between spreading the COVID-19 virus and paying rent.” Leadnow senior campaigner Claire Gallagher said.
“Tenants need an immediate suspension of rent payments from April 1st until they can safely go back to work.”
Horgan is calling on banks to provide greater support for landlords who are in jeopardy of not receiving rent cheques on April 1.
The province still has details to work out including how it will distribute money to rental properties where multiple people live.
The additional measures announced on Wednesday include preventing landlords from accessing rental units without the consent of the tenant except in exceptional cases where it is needed to protect health and safety or to prevent undue damage to the unit.
The province is also allowing landlords to restrict the use of common areas by tenants or guests to protect against the transmission of COVID-19.
The Residential Tenancy Branch will implement several additional actions, including adjourning and rescheduling hearings in situations where people need additional time to prepare and extending timelines for filing applications for dispute resolution.