Dear Metro Vancouver renters,
You can be forgiven if you're feeling – more than ever – like second-class citizens.
While you've been struggling to pay your ever-increasing rent or find a decent place to live, you've watched as the province bends over backward to ease the tax burden for property-rich homeowners and offers incentives for first-time buyers who have somehow managed to scrape together a down payment.
For you, there's no break on property taxes through a homeowner grant because you have failed to own a home.
There is no interest-free loan for you to put toward a down payment because buying anything in Metro Vancouver is beyond your reach.
I don't know, maybe you're just not working hard enough.
There's no deferring your property taxes because you pay your landlord's property taxes as a portion of your rent.
There is no first-time buyer tax exemption.
All of those perks for homeowners, by the way, are subsidized by you through your provincial tax dollars. Some estimates put the total amount at almost a billion dollars. Feels good to help, doesn't it?
You can, however, count on an annual increase in your rent – one that far exceeds the rate of inflation and most likely exceeds any increase in your income. This year, the maximum increase is 3.7 per cent.
If it feels like you're falling further behind, it's only because you are.
You can also count on landlords continuing to use the "termination clause" loophole to raise your rent beyond the allowable amount, year after year, by terminating your rental agreement and forcing you to sign a new one.
The province knows about this loophole. Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing, has made noises about closing it but so far has not. To do so may require reconvening the legislature – and, well, you know how they feel about that.
If you are on social assistance or disability benefits, you'll know that your shelter allowance hasn't gone up in almost 10 years. You know that it's impossible to rent anything for the $375 you get for shelter as a single person each month.
And yes, there is the province's rental assistance program, which you are not eligible for if you already receive social assistance or live in subsidized housing or a co-op. You only qualify if your household income is less than $35,000 a year, you have dependent children and less than $100,000 in assets.
According to the province's online calculator, a single parent with two children who earns $33,600 a year, lives in Metro Vancouver and pays $1,000 a month in rent is eligible for a monthly subsidy of $74.26. That's if you pay for your own heat. You might want to set that money aside to put toward your hydro bill – I hear it's going to be a big one.
The province says the average monthly payment under the program is $400. I was only able to coax that number out of the calculator by plugging in the most desperate of scenarios.
Then there's the challenge of finding a place to rent at all. The City of Vancouver is clamping down on short-term rentals and taxing people who don't rent out their empty homes. We have yet to see whether either of those measures will produce any significant results. I'm not optimistic.
Finding a purpose-built rental unit that won't be sold out from under you remains largely a fantasy for renters. More likely you'll end up in a condo or a secondary suite where the owner will decide when it's time for you to move.
Demand has long outstripped supply, especially when it comes to anything remotely affordable. That isn't going to change – not even if the province's $500-million affordable-housing plan, announced in November, becomes a reality. Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC has broken down the numbers. He says that while 2,897 units sounds impressive, the way they are targeted will leave low-income adults and single-parent families competing for a fraction of the total number.
Kishone Roy, the CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, doesn't like pitting renters against owners. He sympathizes with homeowners facing ever-increasing property taxes, but he says there needs to be some recognition that the off-the-chart assessments affect the rental market as well. "The deck is stacked against renters in general," he told me in an interview.
And so, dear renters, please know that there are people out there who feel your pain and that governments at all levels are now reacting to a crisis decades in the making.
Will it help you in the short term?
Is it all too little, too late?
It probably is.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.