B.C. Green Party calls for immediate support for renters and increased income caps for RAP and SAFER programs

February 06, 2024

VICTORIA, B.C. – The B.C. Green Party is calling for immediate action to address the housing affordability crisis. According to the Canadian Rental Housing Index, over a quarter of a million renter households are currently spending over 30% of their household income on rent and utilities. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the party is advocating for significant changes to existing rental assistance programs and the implementation of vacancy control in the form of a new Rental Rate Protection program.

“People who rent in B.C. are facing a deepening crisis, and they need more support from this government,” said party leader, Sonia Furstenau. “The B.C. Greens are calling on the B.C. NDP government to raise income caps for existing assistance programs and to implement Rental Rate Protection. This is not just policy, it's a lifeline. It's time to shift the focus from housing as a commodity to housing as a right. Every British Columbian deserves to have a secure and affordable home."

The B.C. Greens are proposing immediate increases in the household income cutoffs for the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) and Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER). The proposed changes are as follows:

  • RAP (All areas of the province): Increase the household income cap from $40,000 to $70,000.

  • SAFER (Lower Mainland):

    • Single: Increase from $30,600 to $45,000.

    • Couple: Increase from $33,000 to $50,000.

  • SAFER (Other areas):

    • Single: Increase from $29,352 to $45,000.

    • Couple: Increase from $31,992 to $50,000.

To support these initiatives, the party suggests a doubling of the budget for rental assistance programs from the $164 million proposed by the NDP for 2024/25 to $338 million.

These changes aim to provide immediate support to renters within the existing system without requiring the development of new programs. RAP offers monthly financial aid to help with rent for low-income families who worked in the past year, earn less than $40,000 before taxes, and have at least one child, with an annual renewal requirement for ongoing assistance. SAFER provides monthly rental assistance to low-income seniors who are renting, with the amount of aid based on the difference between 30% of their income and the actual rent, up to a maximum threshold.

The B.C. Greens are also calling for the implementation of a Rental Rate Protection program to limit or prevent rent increases between tenancies. This cap should mirror the annual rental rate increase allowed under current legislation, which is a maximum of 3.5% in 2024.

“While the B.C. NDP government has focused mainly on the goal of increasing the supply of housing for homebuyers, they have proven unwilling to take meaningful steps to ensure renters in British Columbia have a secure and affordable place to live,” said Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. “The announcement last week to increase the funds in the BC Rent Bank is welcome news, but when British Columbians are turning to the rent bank they are in an extremely desperate situation. What we are proposing are immediate policy measures the government could take to protect the estimated 1.5 million people in our province who rent. These changes will cool the rental market, re-align the SAFER and RAP programs to match the current reality, and remove the cruel clawbacks that hurt seniors and people trying to keep pace with a challenging private sector housing market.”

Recent data from the Canadian Rental Housing Index shows that 38% of renters in B.C. are spending more than 30% of their household income on rent and utilities, with 16% paying more than 50%. Current eligibility cutoffs for assistance programs are too low, and increasing these levels will offer immediate relief for many renters.

The B.C. Greens are also concerned about the practice of clawing back SAFER benefits due to increases in federal benefits like Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). This practice has led to a reduction in SAFER benefits over the past few years, as evidenced by the experience of one senior whose SAFER benefit has steadily decreased from $79.34 in 2017 to $64.78 in 2020.

Recently released analysis from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) shows that in Vancouver in 2023, a minimum-wage worker renting the average bachelor unit rent would see over 50% of their monthly income go towards rent.  In Victoria, a worker earning minimum wage would need to allocate more than 40% of their monthly income to afford the average rent. The report also notes that in Victoria, when rental units with long-term tenants become available, their rents are adjusted to align more closely with current market rates. In 2023, units that changed tenants were 41.5% more costly compared to those that had no turnover, a trend notably higher than Vancouver's 26.6%.

These steps are part of the B.C. Greens' commitment to providing immediate relief for renters. The party will be releasing a comprehensive housing strategy in the spring, focused on long-term solutions for the housing crisis in BC.

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