Rent debt staring in people’s faces, Vancouver Tenants Union warns

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      Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. provincial government has stopped tenant evictions and rent increases.

      However, renters are still expected to pay their landlords, even if they have lost their jobs.

      Although landlords are banned from evicting renters who cannot pay, tenants still have to cover their outstanding obligation in the future.

      There’s a big problem here, according to Sara Sagaii, a member of the steering committee of the Vancouver Tenants Union.

      “What that means is that the government is entrenching rent debt,” Sagaii told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Sagaii said that low-income renters will be most affected by this, unless the government cancels rent payments during this pandemic.

      “Low-income renters would be carrying a massive, untenable debt in the post-COVID future,” Sagaii said.

      The VTU is hosting on its website a campaign to cancel rent during the pandemic.

      The VTU site will connect renters by phone to their respective B.C. MLAs.

      On March 25 this year, the B.C. government rolled out a temporary rent supplement program to assist renters and landlords.

      The program offers households with dependents of $500 per month, and households without dependents, $300.

      The supplement is paid directly to landlords.

      But according to Sagaii, there’s something worrisome about this approach.

      “One thing that we've been particularly concerned about with the program is that renters who apply for the program would have to agree to repayment of any unpaid rent during this period,” Sagaii explained.

      This means that any rent that is not covered by the subsidy and unpaid by the renter during the pandemic will have to payed back sooner or later.

      “The situation we have right now is that large businesses, large corporations, and banks are being bailed out, while everybody else is left to fend for themselves,” Sagaii said.

      According to Sagaii, big money interests should be asked to “take the hit” instead of having poor people buried in debt from unpaid rent and other expenses.

      “To be frank, it's unbelievably stupid as far as public policy goes to expect people to carry this debt,” Sagaii said.

      Sagaii noted that many peope live from paycheque to paycheque.

      “So if you've lost that paycheque, you can't pay your rent, but even when it resumes, you can only pay one month's rent. You can't pay the previous month's rent,” Sagaii said.

      If this health crisis goes on for months, people will keep accumulating this debt.

      “When and how are they going to be able to pay it back?” Sagaii asked.

      And right now, according to Sagaii, the government is “just putting that burden on the individual renters and asking them to carry this debt”.