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Problems with rental supplement days after opening

Tenant advocates and BC Housing have concerns
B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson and Premier John Horgan announce rent supplement paid to eligible landlords for COVID-19 relief, March 25, 2020. (B.C. government) B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson and Premier John Horgan announce rent supplement paid to eligible landlords for COVID-19 relief, March 25. (B.C. government)

With the implementation of the the new temporary rental supplement on April 9, which was designed to ease some financial stress on renters who have experienced loss of income during COVID-19, problems have risen to the surface just a few days after applications opened, prompting local advocates and BC Housing to voice concerns.

“This crisis is putting pressure on people across B.C. …We’re helping them pay rent with the new temporary rental supplement - providing direct relief on the biggest month-to-month expense for most households,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in a press release.

“Together with the other provincial and federal programs, the rental supplement will give people the financial support they need right now,” Robinson said when the applications opened.

However, that is not necessarily the case, Paul Legace, coordinator and poverty law advocate for Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre (PRUAC) said.

A lot of organization is required to just apply for the rental subsidy, Legace said. Tenants need to have a lot of documentation such as proof of address, identification, signed tenancy agreement, rent receipt, landlord details and contact information, additionally the information provided must be verifiable.

“My hope is tenants will be proactive in starting the application. The problem is, tenants need all the information when they apply and the documentation needs to be in a digital format for uploading.”

Legace said advocates usually sit with clients to ensure the correctness of applications and would help with uploading documents, but with the COVID-19 restrictions it is not possible. His biggest concern is people will not be able to apply with public offices, like PRUAC, libraries and service desks being closed. Renters may not be able to navigate the required journey through the online application process.

With the in-pouring of many different application types for new government funding initiatives, Legace said it is hard to keep up and PRUAC is not able to help with everything they normally would, like assisting with applications.

READ MORE: Rent freeze, no evictions and money to tenants

“If they (applicants) are not computer literate or do not have the (computer) system, it’s going to be really hard doing this during COVID-19. I think that is going to be a challenge for some folks… That is my biggest concern.”

Already the public has seen the initial rental subsidy announcement decrease from four months to being three, and now if a tenant does not apply in April they will not be entitled to subsidy for April. As well, some landlords are reluctant to assist tenants with the required information, prompting BC Housing to offer up a public Tweet on April 13.

“Tenants, you can still get the rental supplement if you live in an “illegal” suite,” BC Housing said, “If your landlord isn’t cooperating, please let us know so we can figure out another option.”

Legace doesn’t think that illegal suites are a big problem in P.R.

“Illegal suites are functionally only illegal if the city enforces it and in the rare cases when they do, there is usually something else going on. There are technically a lot of illegal suites, but again it comes down to the cities by-law enforcement, ” Legace said.

Landlords need to functionally step up and assist tenants if they really want these benefits, Legace said, with larger landlords perhaps setting up a computer station for tenants use.

“If they want it (the supplement) they are going to have to learn about it and assist the tenant in doing it… Landlords are just going to have to be creative. I think what landlords should do it just get an information sheet up for the tenant and figure out a way to facilitate something,” said Legace.

READ MORE about who qualifies for the temporary rental subsidy: B.C.’s COVID-19 rent supplement starts taking applications

 K-J Millar | Journalist 
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