B.C. creates $500-million rental protection fund

The B.C. government announced Thursday a new $500 million fund to try to curb renovictions in the province. Monika Gul speaks to housing experts and advocates who say the money doesn’t go far enough.

The B.C. government is announcing new rental housing protections, with the creation of a fund that it says will protect tenants and affordable rental homes “for decades.”

Premier David Eby says the new $500-million fund will allow non-profits to secure older rental buildings in the province.

“Today, we’re taking action to protect renters who found an affordable place to live, but are worried their building will be bought out from underneath them,” he said Thursday. “[It will] protect vulnerable renters from speculators who can drive up rents and evict tenants who have lived there for years. Instead, community non-profits will now be able to work with tenants to make improvements or expand to house more people, and at the same time protect affordable housing.”

The government says that increasingly across the province, old rental buildings are being bought out by speculators and large corporations, such as real-estate investment trusts, whose business models include redeveloping properties and evicting tenants.

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“The Rental Protection Fund will provide one-time capital grants to non-profit housing organizations so they can purchase affordable residential rental buildings and ownership cooperatives listed for sale to protect the renters who are living there and safeguard those rental units for the longer term,” the province said.

The fund will be managed by external parties, the B.C. government explains, including the Housing Protection Fund Society, consisting of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), Co-operative Housing Federation B.C. (CHFBC), and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA).

“͞Everyone deserves to feel secure in their home,” said Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End, who was recently appointed as the Premiers Liaison for Renters. ͞”The failure to build and protect rental housing helped create the crisis we are in today. Our government is taking bold action to ensure everyone in our province has access to housing they can afford.”

UBC professor Tom Davidoff says the homes built may not be of the highest quality, but have the potential to help more people.

“By providing some funding for nonprofits, they can secure more homes that are of moderate quality rather than newer, higher quality homes,” Davidoff said.

“Rather than seeing buildings get converted into luxury units, which creates more high-end units but not any extra affordable units…they’re helping people more in the lower and middle end of the income distribution rather than the top.”

But Mazdak Gharibnavaz with the Vancouver Tenants Union, says he’s not sure where the money will actually end up.

“This is not a silver bullet. We live in the eviction capital of Canada here in Metro Vancouver, and for us and our members, we’ve seen egregious cases of evictions and displacement taking place by both private landlords as well as nonprofit developers,” he said.

“Ultimately, it remains to be seen who gets the money.”

Gharibnavaz adds that the money isn’t enough to fix the issue, and more needs to be done.

“I would say that $500 million one-time grant is a drop in the bucket of what we actually need. If this was an annual program, we will be talking about taking 50 to 100 apartment buildings off the private market. But as it stands now, I don’t think it will go very far.”

“The program needs to be set up in a way where there’s democratic accountability and where it actually provides an opportunity to those who don’t have money to purchase property,” Gharibnavaz said.

“Ultimately, what is needed is for government to step in and create publicly built rental stock. That means ensuring the human rights of renters all the rights that they deserve to have a home that is secure, reliable, safe and affordable,” Gharibnavaz said.

Davidoff says the money could make a difference but may depend on the amount needed to maintain the buildings.

“This is a way to transfer resources from the province to renters in moderate quality units, and so I think this does on balance help renters,” Davidoff said.

“It depends a little on the economics of maintaining the existing building. If the rents almost support expenses, then you don’t need much subsidy…On the other hand, if it’s a building that is losing money on rent now faces ground lease payments, or an expensive refinancing, then it’s a different matter and there may be very large subsidies per unit, which are hard to rationalize economically,” Davidoff said.

According to the province, aside from the construction of new rental housing units in the province in recent years, the loss of rental stock to redevelopment has made the net number of purpose-built rentals similar to what it was in the 1990s, while the population has grown by 50 per cent.

According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data, between 1991 and 2021, approximately 97,000 purpose-built rental units in B.C. were either redeveloped or converted to more expensive units.

“This funding will not only help create and preserve some long-term affordability in B.C., it is also an investment that will allow the AHMA to implement some of the pieces of our comprehensive provincial strategy built on 25  years of expertise,” Margaret Pfoh, CEO of AHMA, said. “Having an Indigenous-led organization at the table as an equal partner with BCNPHA and CHFBC is another key step toward true reconciliation. This announcement speaks volumes to our relationship with the Province and enables us to put collective knowledge into action for the benefit of those who most need housing.”

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