'A bailout for landlords': Burnaby renters advocate wants rents frozen altogether

ACORN BC member Murray Martin says freeze on rent increases should be a freeze on rents altogether

A Burnaby renters advocate is calling on the B.C. government to go further in its protections for tenants amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, the province announced new measures to help protect tenants who have lost income due to the outbreak, including a moratorium on evictions except in “extreme” circumstances, a monthly $500 credit to landlords of struggling renters and a freeze on rent increases.

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Those measures will provide some relief, according to Murray Martin, a Burnaby member of ACORN BC, but they don’t go far enough.

“It was good to hear them talk about a moratorium on evictions,” he said. “That’s on the good side. On the bad side, it should have been done a few weeks ago to save renters a lot of stress. … The $500 a month, there’s lots of problems with that. It’s not a bailout or subsidy for renters. It’s a bailout for landlords.”

Martin said the $500 subsidy is particularly problematic because it’s the renter who needs to apply for it, but the cheque goes directly to the landlord.

“ACORN members are really representative of low- and moderate-income people, and lots of them won’t have the ability to access (it) if it’s done online,” Martin said.

“In the best of times, what they do is go to a library or a friend’s house or something, if they have that ability. That’s not possible at this point, so I don’t know how a lot of tenants are even going to be able to get this.”

Martin said it’s particularly wrong to ask renters to apply for the subsidy to landlords, given that landlords are far more likely to have internet access than their renters.

He added a $500 subsidy, even if it were for renters, would be far from enough to help with rent for someone who may have lost a job.

Martin also said the rent-increase freeze doesn’t go far enough, as ACORN and tenants unions in the region have called for an all-out suspension of rent payments.

“If they did a moratorium, like we were asking, on rent payments, people could keep money for food,” he said, adding people will likely have to make some tough decisions.

With the assistance plan not in place in time for April’s rent, Premier John Horgan said renters and landlords will have to cooperate. He said all renters have some form of relationship with their landlords. “Let’s hope it’s a good relationship,” Horgan said.

To that, Martin said, “You’re hoping for something that ACORN and other tenant organizations have shown is not the reality.”

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley said he was relieved to see the government announce a moratorium on evictions.

“The last thing we need is a bunch of people couch surfing or, even worse, having to live in a park at this time because they couldn’t find anywhere else to go because they were evicted,” Hurley said, adding he would like to see the B.C. government “go a bit further” on the $500 subsidy.

“Something’s better than nothing, but at the same time, $500 a month in the Lower Mainland is not a lot of money when it comes to rents.”

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