The provincial government’s decision to end BC’s COVID-19 rental supplement and to lift the eviction ban for non-payment of rent as of September 1 is counter to British Columbians’ support for continuing emergency measures, a new poll commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC Office shows.
And, the poll shows strong support for bold policies to tackle the pre-existing housing affordability crisis in BC, says economist and public finance analyst Alex Hemingway.
“The data make clear that British Columbians are hurting financially because of the pandemic, but public support programs like the federal CERB and BC’s Temporary Rental Supplement are helping significantly, ensuring that more people can pay their rent or mortgages than would have been possible without these supports,” he says.
“Without this type of critical public investment during the crisis, the consequences for British Columbians would have been disastrous and our survey indicates there is strong support for continuing these aids.”
Survey results are based on an online survey of 2,289 English-speaking BC residents aged 18 years and older, conducted between May 16 to June 1, 2020.
The survey data show that many BC households entered the pandemic in a precarious financial state, which has worsened from the sharp economic downturn. Among renters, 54 per cent report loss of income in their households compared with 48 per cent of owners with mortgages and 27 per cent of owners without mortgages. Renters also reported the highest severity of income loss. One third of renters who lost income report losing 60 per cent or more.
Overall, 72 per cent of renters say they are just getting by or falling behind financially and 60 per cent of owners with mortgages say the same. Conversely, 70 per cent of owners without mortgages are financially secure or getting ahead.
“The good news is that government supports seem to have worked for many households,” Hemingway says. “Among renters, 39 per cent said they had received COVID-related benefits from the federal or provincial government and 88 per cent reported being able to pay their May rent in full.”
However, Hemingway added, 11 per cent of renters said they were either very or extremely concerned about making rent the following month and another 35 per cent said they were somewhat concerned but would figure it out. Of the 11 per cent, more than half said they did not attempt to access the renter supplement because they either didn’t know about it (46 per cent) or believed they weren’t eligible (40 per cent).
Hemingway notes that policies British Columbians support to address the pre-existing housing affordability crisis include:
- government continuation of the rent freeze and ban on evictions (70 per cent in support, 17 per cent unsure, 13 per cent opposed).
- government aggressively increasing investments in affordable non-market housing (55 per cent support, 33 per cent unsure, 12 per cent opposed).
- government requiring banks to provide six-month interest-free mortgage deferrals and penalty-free mortgage restructuring (77 per cent support, 15 per cent unsure, eight per cent opposed).
“As the pandemic continues, a huge number of households—renters in particular—remain under major financial strain even if most are managing to cover rent and mortgage payments for now. We have long known that housing affordability has put a strain on British Columbians and the financial precarity that our survey respondents displayed supports the need to create more affordable housing. The survey shows there is strong public support for governments to take bold policy action on that front,” Hemingway says.