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BC Greens want rent hike limits tied to units, instead of renters

BC United accuses NDP of failing to support seniors by neglecting SAFER program
Sonia Furstenau Thursday tabled legislation to prevent rents to go up when a unit becomes available. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

BC Greens Thursday (Feb. 29) tabled legislation that would prevent landlords from increasing rent when a unit becomes empty as the fate of renters took centre stage during Question Period.

Leader Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley, said her private member’s bill would tie rent to the unit itself, adding it would prevent rents from rising when another person takes over the unit.

“People are already struggling to pay their rent,” Furstenau said. “When hit with a major rent increase while searching for a new home, many can’t afford it and the next stop is homelessness.”

While the rental rate protection program currently prevents landlords from raising the rents of existing tenants beyond 3.5 per cent, it does not cover new tenants in between vacancies.

The legislation promises to close what BC Green House Leader Adam Olsen has called a “glaring gap” in legislation.

RELATED: B.C. Greens seek change to rental cap for landlords between renters

The tabling of Furstenau’s private member’s bill comes as the legislature continues to debate Budget 2024, which Furstenau Tuesdsay criticized for lacking “tangible support” for renters.

“(Let’s) be clear, a $400 tax credit (for households earning less than $60,000 kicking in this year) does not address the dire situation that renters face in B.C.,” she said.

Furstenau also pointed to reporting that shows millions of dollars earmarked for rental support have gone unspent.

“In 2022-23, B.C.’s housing rental assistance programs reached 10,000 fewer people than planned,” she said. “As a result, $32 million that was supposed to support low-income British Columbians did not get spent. For those who do receive rental assistance, the subsidies are no longer enough to make ends meet.”

These critiques continued through the week with BC United Leader Kevin Falcon Thursday questioning government’s support for low-income seniors receiving Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters.

“We’ll update the SAFER rent subsidies program immediately to reflect the current housing market and actually support our seniors,” Falcon said, noting that SAFER rent subsidies have not changed for six years. Despite setting a record-setting deficit, government “could not be bothered” to increase the subsidies for “our most vulnerable seniors,” Falcon said.

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Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon responded to Falcon by saying that B.C. is behind two decades when it comes to building affordable housing.

“(When) I said governments for two decades decided not to invest in affordable housing, perhaps he didn’t realize I was talking about him and his party,” Kahlon said.

While B.C.’s housing challenge is “real,” government is investing an “historic levels of dollars into building actually affordable housing that people can afford in our communities,” Kahlon said, pointing to the recent run of housing-related legislation.

Kahlon also said this week that B.C. is seeing an “historic amount” of rental units coming online right now.

New data from BC Housing released in early 2024 shows the number of registered purpose-built rental homes in B.C. rose by almost 31 per cent compared to 2022.

RELATED: B.C. recorded 30% increase in new rental homes in 2023

While Kahlon acknowledged that SAFER requires improvement, the NDP increased funding by 42 per cent in 2018 after coming into office.

“Now the program serves 20,000 seniors in British Columbia,” Kahlon said. “I think it helps a lot of people, and we do acknowledge that it needs more reform. We have launched a review of the program. The review is complete. We’re just going through the details of the recommendations.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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