Updated: Apr 12
By Emily Rogers, TAPS Director of Operations
The provincial government’s announcement limiting rent increases to 2% is being lauded as a relief for BC renters. While it is true that capping rent increases rather than tying them to the inflation rate will limit cost-of-living increases for some renters, it doesn’t address the real problem creating housing instability for tenants: the economic incentive for landlords to evict them.Limiting rent increases in between tenancies, a policy known as ‘vacancy control’, is the most cost-effective way to provide renters with immediate and genuine housing security. This policy was in place between 1974 and 1983 in BC and is currently enacted in PEI and Quebec. As the Director of Operations at Together Against Poverty Society, I spend most of my day talking to people who do not have a home, are in the process of losing their home through eviction, or are terrified of losing their home because they know they cannot afford current rental rates and the list for affordable housing is years long. Over the last six years at TAPS, I have seen how larger and larger segments of our community teeter on the edge of homelessness, and I am deeply frustrated by the government’s unwillingness to discuss vacancy control as a policy option. When asked, the government says that they considered vacancy control through the Rental Housing Task Force process in 2018 and rejected the idea at that time.
Since that time, however, economic and social factors in our community have shifted significantly. The average market rent for a vacant two-bedroom unit in Victoria has increased by 34% in the last year alone. As it stands now, asking rent is now $2800 for a one-bedroom. This means that someone receiving Income Assistance is $1865 short each month from being able to rent one-bedroom apartment even if they put every dollar of their income toward rent. Someone receiving Persons with Disability benefits is short $1441, and a senior receiving old age benefits needs an additional $1138 each month to be able to rent a one-bedroom unit, not considering other living expenses such as food and utilities.
The staggering rise of rent means that the power differential between landlords and tenants is magnified significantly – tenants don’t want to speak up about issues in their tenancy because are terrified of losing their housing, even if it is substandard or unhealthy. Meanwhile, landlords have an incredible financial incentive to evict long-term tenants, and will take any opportunity to do so. Two years ago, it was common for TAPS to be able to negotiate agreements with landlords to preserve tenancies. Today, landlords are often unwilling to consider anything but eviction, even over trivial matters. From a capitalistic perspective, this makes sense – they literally can double the rent overnight.
Vacancy control would eliminate this incentive, lending a breath of relief to thousands of tenants and preserving the sliver of affordable housing that already exists in our community. Of course, I recognize that inflation impacts landlords too. Concerns are often raised about whether vacancy control penalizes landlords for investing in maintenance and repairs to their property. While I maintain that it is a landlord’s responsibility to budget for such repairs and note that inflationary rent increases are still permitted each year, a mechanism does exist to address concerns about financing building maintenance: landlords are able to apply to the residential tenancy branch to request an additional rent increase when they have completed capital repairs to their property.
The Union of BC Municipalities met in early September and considered a resolution proposed by the City of Victoria urging the Province to once again explore vacancy control as a policy option. Unfortunately, the resolution was defeated by 7 votes (143-136). While this is a disappointing result, we were very heartened to see that it was a close vote. This shows that vacancy control has gained significant momentum across the province and it is increasingly recognized as a necessary measure to temper the housing crisis. We need to build upon this success: I urge you to write to your MLA and local mayor and council and encourage them to support vacancy control. If we have any chance of turning the housing crisis around, we need vacancy control immediately as an emergency response.
This article was published as an op-ed in the September 12, 2022 edition of the Times Colonist