To Hon. Premier Horgan and Minister Robison,

The Solidarity & Social Justice Committee of the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) stands in solidarity with working class and working poor renters across the province who are feeling the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic in acute and unique ways. We applaud the announcement on March 25 regarding the moratorium on evictions and rent increases. This eviction ban is especially important, as it ensures no one unable to pay rent on April 1 will lose their housing. However, we do not feel the $500 subsidy to be paid directly to landlords addresses this need in the systemic way that is required at this time. Furthermore, it does not speak to the high cost of housing and the urgency of need many are facing with the looming April 1st due date of rent. The sky-high rents in BC mean that the federal and provincial governments alike will need to take further, immediate action and significantly boost the income supports already announced to ensure that households can actually meet their needs as we get through this crisis.

In particular, your announcement and narrative of trusting in the kindliness of landlords during this time is misplaced and does not seem to grasp the power imbalances that remain present, if not exacerbated, during this crisis. As a union who understands the importance of collective power and action, we would never ask our members to directly confront those who hold power over them. As a union we would not tell a member to speak to their boss without a shop steward present. Telling individual people experiencing precarity in job security, income, and health to approach unequal power alone is not leadership or justice. The conversations you are suggesting renters have with their landlords are not starting from a good or fair place. Furthermore, we know from our members that following your announcement, many received explicit direction from their landlords who insist on the payment of rent through whatever means necessary. 

Furthermore, the $500 subsidy your government has announced removes agency of those tenants who are putting the efforts in to apply for this funding, with this money going directly into the pockets of landlords. This speaks to a lack of trust in working class people and the mythology that they will exploit the system or do not know how to properly manage their monies. Furthermore, this funding will be turned over even after tenants have paid a full month’s rent for April, given that the application portal will not even be made available through BC Housing until well after the April 1st due date. If the federal and provincial emergency income supports are not reaching households quickly enough and remain at inadequate levels, rent cancellation will need to be extended to May. As noted by CCPA, In many European countries, workers’ incomes affected by COVID-19 are being replaced at rates of up to 90%, compared to Canada’s Employment Insurance replacement rate of only 55% up to only $54,000 in insurable earnings, which means a maximum benefit of about $2,300 per month—barely enough to cover average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Vancouver. Benefit rates will be even lower for those who will receive stop-gap federal emergency benefits rather than regular EI. There are also many limits and unknown means tests for who can apply for all of these different funding structures including the proposed rental subsidy, with many already announced excluding those who are already homeless and unemployed, freelancers, students who are about to enter the job market.

This also leads to the question of why landlords should expect to maintain the same level of income on their investments when so many working people are struggling. For those who have savings, why should these working people have to spend those hard earned savings to maintain their landlord’s level of comfort in these investments? Regardless of whether someone is still working, rent continues to represent a massive portion of their monthly expenditures. Given that housing is a human right, the actual service landlords provide is exceptionally small. It’s inhumane to expect people going through a difficult time to fund the investment of an economic parasite. Centering the health and lives of renters instead of keeping landlords in business should be the priority of your government. 

Therefore, the Solidarity & Social Justice Committee of the TSSU stands behind the recommendations being put forward by the Vancouver Tenants’ Union and the BC Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which call for:

  • A moratorium on all rents. With one day until rent is due, renters should not be thinking about having to go into debt, risking health or starving their families to pay the rent. 
  • A deferment of all mortgage payments without accruing interest. No bank should profit off of disaster while tenants pay the price. Lenders should also be prohibited from charging fees for deferrals and loan restructuring, and be required to maintain the interest rate from the original loan or their current posted rate, whichever is less. 
  • A cancellation of outstanding rents and evictions notices when the eviction moratorium is lifted. Renters will not bear the brunt of this crisis by losing homes or wiping away futures. By forgiving the rent rather than simply delaying payment, this policy would support renters facing an income crunch during this crisis.

In recent days, we have seen other countries, such as France and Venezuela, announce similar actions including deferral of all rental payments and mortgages for six months. These are universal support models and precedents being enacted right now that can be drawn from to support the working people of British Columbia in more expansive and systemic ways. 

It is also important to highlight that given the long-running homelessness crisis in this province, emergency housing is needed for those without shelter and who cannot self-isolate.  As suggested by the CCPA-BC, this could include requisitioning empty hotel space to provide housing (including appropriate staffing) for people experiencing homelessness, as is currently occurring in jurisdictions like California. Significant increases to income assistance rates are also urgently needed—these are long overdue, and now is the time to finally raise the rates. This is also important given the possibility of a spike in applications for welfare if temporary EI benefits are not extended as the economic crisis unfolds.

It has always been the time to centre the needs of those most marginalised by current systems, but the public health crisis of COVID-19 has made this an especially urgent need. We call on your government to do what is right by listening to those who are facing the most risk at this time. Furthermore, we hope that our governments learn from this moment and make permanent many of the support systems put in place for working people.

Solidarity & Social Justice Committee

Teaching Support Staff Union

ssjc@tssu.ca