TAPS Executive Director Douglas King participated in the provincial lock-up to hear details of the 2018 budget and how it relates to TAPS' work on housing, income assistance, and employment standards. The following is a synopsis on some of the hits and misses from the current government's first full budget.
Feb 20, 2018 - Victoria
First of all it is important to start with a recognition that this year's budget is very different from those seen over the last 16 years under the BC Liberal government. In the budget lock-up this morning members of the media, non-profit sector, and from the private sector were pouring over where the government was going to invest and spend, rather than cut and reduce. Sections of our society have been bled dry over the last two decades, and watching a government talk about increases to Ministry services, legal aid, and child-care was clearly a truly a cathartic experience for many in this room.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to ask the tough questions about whether or not proposed measures will really work, or if they go far enough, and what crucial pieces have been omitted. TAPS helps hundreds of low-income people in the Capital region with evictions, income assistance and disability benefit denials, lost wages, and a wide variety of other problems. We continually hear from people what they need right now to survive, and what makes a real difference in their day-to-day lives. With that in mind, we give our thoughts on this year’s provincial budget.
Housing affordability through taxation:
Clearly the government has put all its eggs in one basket when it comes to tackling overall affordability in the housing market by introducing a Speculation Tax, and increasing and expanding the Property Transfer Tax (Foreign Buyers Tax). It’s hard not to see a continuation of the “trickle down” approach to these taxes, based on a theory that if the price of home ownership decreases, corresponding rental rates will subsequently decline. While this might work in theory, it is unlikely to have any impact on the rental market for years, if not decades, if it has any impact at all. If there is one thing we should know about capitalism by now it’s that people don’t lower prices out of the goodness of their heart. The bold move we had hoped to see from the government was a move toward de-commodifying housing.
With this in mind, in terms of housing, the 2018 budget is a bit of a disappointment. In reality, there will be no immediate relief for low-income renters in British Columbia, especially for those who rent from private landlords. Even the promise of a $400 Renters Rebate subsidy for renters, which felt like a drop in the bucket, now appears to be off the table.
Is there hope for the future?
At the very least, this year’s budget contains a very important and essential acknowledgment about the current state of our rental markets:
“Unfortunately, some landlords have taken advantage of the tight rental market and their actions have had serious impact on people. Loopholes in rental laws that allow landlords to wrongfully evict tenants and unfairly jack up rents have left many British Columbians feelings renting is not a secure and predictable housing option”
To hear the government say this is a huge relief for us, as we commonly represent victims of bad faith evictions by landlords. Since taking power the NDP government has eliminated fixed term leases and geographic rent increases, and now in this budget have their sights set on preventing a landlord from unlawfully using the renovation clause in the RTA to evict tenants. Let’s be honest, all of these measures are long overdue, and credit must be given where it is due.
However, the budget does miss out on one of the largest dangers to rental security staring us right in the face: the RTA provision that allows a landlord to evict a tenant at any time for personal and family use, and the fact that a tenant must move out on the strength of the landlord’s word alone. Closing a loophole only works if there aren’t other loopholes right next to them waiting to be exploited, and sadly this budget does not provide the wholesale protection that is required for renters.
To provide real security, the RTA must be changed so that the onus of proof and responsibility of obtaining an eviction lies with the landlord. Landlords should be required to apply for an end of tenancy instead of just issuing a sheet of paper, and should have to require proof that they are acting in good faith. If they are then found to be acting in bad faith, the penalties must be real and substantial, not the two-months rent which can currently be written off as a cost of doing business.
Opening the door for Rent Control:
One hopeful part of the budget is the pledge to allow municipalities to zone exclusively for rental housing. This is primarily a commitment to incentivizing more development, and the “build our way to affordability” approach, which has proven to fail over and over again, but we are pleased to see that it at least allows municipalities to have more control over the type of housing that is built. Additionally, it might open the door for the possibility of rent control in the future, as the creation of exclusive rental housing zones makes it easier for government in the future to form zones where rent can be capped and controlled.
What about Income Assistance and Disability benefits?
While it is certainly a relief to see the government commit 6 million over three years to increasing staffing and decreasing wait times at the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, there are again no changes to the adversarial culture that has made accessing our social welfare net feel like a demeaning endurance challenge. Instead, the government seems to be focusing on new initiatives like striking a panel to test the idea of Basic Income. If done right Basic Income can be a powerful thing, but there is no escaping the fact that our main system of social support, provincial income assistance and disability benefits, has been largely left unchanged.
The same can be said about Employment Standards. Again, there is a nominal increase in expenditures dedicated to the enforcement of the Employment Standards Act, but workers are still left with a broken, and inaccessible complaint system. We are also left waiting for meaningful changes to worker’s rights in our province like paid sick time and greater wage equality. Ironically, for a budget largely focused on child-care, these two measures would have made an instant impact on the well-being of child-care providers, whose work is characterized by low-pay and the bare minimum in employment benefits.
It is clear from this budget that the NDP has ambitous plans to address affordability and social welfare in the future, and has left a lot to be filled by budget's down the road. Whether or not this is truly the first step, or a false start, for now remains to be seen.