Once again, there was no mention of one of the B.C. NDP’s signature promises from the 2017 election campaign in this week’s provincial budget and even some of the people that a $400 rebate for renters would be intended to help think that’s not a bad thing.
Finance Minister Carole James said Tuesday the rebate is something her government is working on with the “Green caucus and colleagues.” The NDP holds government in British Columbia only because of the support of the three Green MLAs, and the two parties have an agreement to work together on financial issues.
But while Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has been vocal in his opposition to the renters’ rebate idea in the past, none of the three Green MLAs would comment Wednesday on whether they support the rebate.
Instead, the party issued a statement that noted: “Ensuring British Columbians have a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home is very important to the BC Green Caucus. … The caucus remains committed to increasing security and affordability for all British Columbians, including renters, and will continue to explore ways to bring thoughtful and evidence-based solutions to the table with government.”
After the NDP introduced its first budget in September, 2017, Mr. Weaver said that the Greens would not support the $400 rebate.
The NDP election platform pledged to create an annual rebate, writing: "Homeowners get a break on their property taxes each year; renters deserve a break too, especially with the skyrocketing rates we see today.”
But even a founding member of the Vancouver Tenants Union thinks the renters’ rebate policy needs modification.
Neil Vokey said the promise was not income tested and too small to make much difference. “Nobody that we’ve spoken with … thinks it’s a very good policy unless it’s specifically tied to income,” Mr. Vokey said. “A $400 annual rent supplement is a very small amount and barely covers even the allowable rent increases.”
Before the budget speech on Tuesday, Ms. James took questions from reporters during the media lock-up. She highlighted the NDP’s decision to cap rent increases at the rate of inflation and other budget measures that she said will make a difference for low-income tenants, including the first provincially funded rent bank program. The program will provide access to short-term loans for low-income tenants who cannot pay their rent because of a financial crisis.
The new provincial program is similar to one used by the city of Vancouver, which provides one-time, interest-free loans to low-income people in temporary financial crises for up to $1,300 for a single person. Low-income is defined as after-tax earnings of below $24,463. The loans can be used for past-due rent, security deposits and utility bills. Borrowers are to pay back the loan within two years, but if the loan is interest-free, there is an administration fee of $1 a month. The city program issued 137 loans in its first year, 2012-13.
David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, said his group supports the rent-bank policy and currently serves on the advisory board of the Vancouver Rent Bank. But he said more needs to be done to address affordable market-rate housing. He said the government’s efforts on non-profit housing will make a difference to that segment.
“But the fact of the matter is the larger demographic is folks who are currently renting at market-rate rental housing," he said. “I think the conversation needs to continue and that’s certainly our intention to continue to work with the government to find some solutions to get more market secure purpose-built rental housing,”
This week’s budget also launched a plan to help the homeless, which includes building 200 more modular homes, to bring the total in the province to 2,200.
Mr. Vokey said the modular homes program has seen good results, but the modest increase in the number of them is “still not scaled to amount of homelessness provincewide.”