How large a part are banks prepared to play to mitigate economic collapse resulting from the COVID-19 crisis? Because really, no matter what individuals and governments do to help each other, all roads lead to their doorstep. Premier John Horgan said as much this week and appealed to the banks to help landlords as he announced a freeze on evictions and financial help for renters who have been laid off.
April 1 is fast approaching and in Vancouver, where rents are high and many people live cheque to cheque, anxiety is mounting. Mr. Horgan says his office has received 17,000 e-mails from panicked renters out of work. Even with an eviction moratorium, tenants will be reluctant to stiff landlords for fear they’ll be evicted when the ban lifts. On top of the $500-a-household rental assistance from the province, there is $2,000 a month available from the federal government to help those laid off or unable to work because of COVID-19. But it won’t arrive by month’s end, which means on April 1, some people in Vancouver will have to decide whether to spend what money they have on food or rent.
Of course, landlords large and small are in trouble, too, because without the rent, many will not be able to meet their mortgage payments. Canada’s six largest banks announced this week they will defer mortgage payments for up to six months, but it appears they are still charging interest. That means if and when things ever return to normal, everyone’s payments will be larger.
I hope as our financial institutions craft their final bail-out packages, they will adopt the same generosity of spirit being shown by Vancouverites. Because here’s what’s going on at a micro level. On March 15, having read the tea leaves on the COVID-19 escalation in Canada, my husband and I sent our tenant, a chef, the following note. “The city may be shut down tomorrow. Possibly restaurants will have to close. If that happens, we will not be charging rent until they reopen. There is much to worry about, but you don’t have to worry about that.”
I write this not to brag about being a good person – I score lower on the generosity scale than many. My husband and I are doing this because in our lifetimes we have never witnessed an economic upheaval of this magnitude. We are supremely lucky and can afford to forgo the rent. And we are not alone.
My neighbour a few doors down owns a building on Main Street that she leases to a small business, now closed. She, too, has forgiven her tenant’s lease payments for the duration of the crisis. Nikolas Badminton, a futuristic speaker whose engagements have mostly been cancelled, has given his Chinatown tenants a $1,000-a-month break even though he and his partner in Toronto carry a mortgage on their own home.
Ruth Chuang and Corey Jones, two generous, community-minded realtors, gave Juke Fried Chicken $1,000 to pay for meals for the first health-care workers to place a takeout order. They’re encouraging others to choose a restaurant and do likewise; a gesture of thanks for the selflessness of those caring for our ill and support for a beloved local small business.
I have scores of additional friends and colleagues who are continuing to pay for child care, elder care and housecleaning services they may not receive for months. They are doing it to help people who perform services they value.
There are many other people in Vancouver who can’t afford to extend financial help to others but are going out of their way to be kind. As I walked my dog around Trout Lake this week, I saw hand-drawn signs posted on the trees. Each had a message. Words such as “Hope. Believe. Love.” And then there is the 7 p.m. pot-banging ritual, which began in the West End and spread citywide as a show of gratitude for health-care workers coming off shift. It draws a tear.
To the banks I would say: During a pandemic, nothing can lift the spirits of someone who feels they might lose their home or didn’t have one in the first place. This is a time for generosity from us all.
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