Will Gladman and Dani Aiello: The NDP’s Rental Housing Task Force offers little to renters in crisis

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      By Will Gladman and Dani Aiello

      With its December 12 release, B.C.'s Rental Housing Task Force (RHTF) reported back on the findings of their three-month consultation process with renters and landlords across 11 cities. The Vancouver Tenants Union responded this week with a point-by-point analysis of the task force’s results. Those results are, ultimately, a major disappointment for renters in crisis across B.C.

      Not only does the report undermine the great need for meaningful vacancy control, it makes empty promises to bring an “end to renovictions”, barely scratches the surface in addressing Residential tenancy Branch (RTB) reform, and suggests disappointing market-based solutions that will not meet the needs of renters facing the threat of homelessness every month.

      The Vancouver Tenants Union (VTU) submitted 50 recommendations to the task force, yet fewer than 12 of these were attended with any seriousness. Not only do the task force’s recommendations lack teeth, they fall far short of more ambitious policy being proposed at the municipal level in Vancouver and may even undermine current key priority areas recently outlined in federal policy circles.

      Report allows renovictions under some circumstances

      On its surface, the task force’s central call to “end renovictions” looks like a win for renters. But a deeper analysis reveals little more than a restatement of existing protections, already hard won in the courts by tenants fighting illegal evictions. In fact, by allowing renovictions under certain circumstances, the task force’s recommendations put even more people at risk of losing their homes.

      Without a doubt, the biggest failure of the RHTF report is its explicit recommendation against vacancy control of any kind within B.C. This refusal to control rental rates between tenancies not only threatens the housing stability of all renters but it directly undermines the report’s own recommendation to bring an end to renovictions.

      With this report, the task force had an opportunity to take a strong and clear position against displacement and remove the profit motive driving renovictions by recommending vacancy control. Its weak response to this crucial issue should signal to B.C. renters that—as with so many existing protections—vacancy control will have to be fought for.

      Few useful recommendations for dispute resolution

      The RHTF also set out to improve the fairness of the dispute-resolution process, acknowledging that significant improvements are needed to the RTB. However, the report made very few useful recommendations here, dismissing calls to reverse the dispute-resolution burden for evictions.

      Featuring high on the VTU’s list of recommendations, a system of landlord-initiated dispute resolution would mean that all tenants facing eviction are given the right to a fair hearing and would allow the RTB to keep vital data on all evictions served in British Columbia. Although service of evidence by email, recording of hearings, and expanded grounds for review are steps in the right direction, the piecemeal offerings of the task-force report will fail to meaningfully improve the transparency, legitimacy, and fairness of the RTB process.

      Another of the RHTF’s recommendations, a rent bank for use by low-income tenants, functions as a publicly funded, debt-driven rent subsidy. It is a loan-based stopgap response to the housing crisis that redirects public funds to ensure the profitability of private landlords and should be rejected.

      Tenant loans merely delay homelessness

      Non-mortgage household debts in Vancouver and B.C. already exceed the national average, and adding yet another layer of finance and debt-driven solutions to the housing crisis will only exacerbate it. One-off loans for tenants to make timely rent payments do not prevent homelessness but, rather, delay it, dragging low-income households further into a cycle of debt and poverty.

      This housing crisis is, first and foremost, a crisis for renters. In recent years, B.C.’s tenants have seen annual rent increases far outstrip any growth in real wages. An average rent burden of more than 30 percent is now increasingly the norm in urban areas. This is not a crisis for landlords, and not least the small group of developers that oversees the tight and increasingly profitable rental supply in our housing market.

      The task force ultimately places a greater priority on strengthening guarantees for landlord profits than improving housing security for tenants. Without vacancy control as a foundation, other policy mechanisms will fall short in delivering real affordability and long-term security for renters. When will legislators reject developer scaremongering and acknowledge that a cap on a landlord’s rental income is not equivalent to the loss of our homes?

      Will Gladman and Dani Aiello are researchers and tenant advocates who are active with the Vancouver Tenants Union.