Dear Premier Horgan, Minister James, and Minister Robinson,
In March, students celebrated the Province’s response to our joint letter asking for an immediate moratorium on evictions and rent increases in BC. We were grateful to see the Province take action and follow through with these protections for renters. This policy, along with the BC Temporary Rental Supplement Program, has provided countless students with relief and support through the end of the spring semester and into the summer. The security of knowing that they will not be evicted and forced into houselessness during a global public health emergency is crucial to a student’s livelihood.
It is for this critical reason that we were concerned to hear about the BC government’s plan to lift the moratorium on evictions on September 1, 2020. With many students still out of work and facing tuition fee payment deadlines and textbook purchases, the threat of being evicted is not only detrimental to a student’s academic success, but could severely impact all aspects of their life including their mental and physical health. The absolute necessity of housing security, let alone during a global pandemic, cannot be stressed enough.
Though our province has made significant steps towards a full reopening and recovery of the economy, the global health crisis is far from over. The economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 public health emergency are far-reaching and will be felt by the most vulnerable groups in our province for years to come. Among the most financially vulnerable are post-secondary students.
The housing crisis in BC has been affecting students for decades, growing more severe each year as rental housing supply diminishes and prices skyrocket. The days of expecting to pay only 30% of your income on rent are long gone. According to the Canadian Rental Housing Index, 49% of renters in BC aged 15 to 29 spend over 30% of their income on rent while 28% of renters in the same age group spend over half their income on rent.1 10% of renters aged 15 to 29 live in overcrowded conditions.2 This is not new; the difference now is that we are facing an unprecedented global pandemic, the effects of which are unexpected significant losses of income and resources for so many students.
Loss of income due to COVID-19 has disproportionately affected students and young people.3 Many students rely on full-time summer employment to get them through the next school year. This summer, the BC Labour Force Survey collected data on labour market outcomes for post-secondary students who were attending school full-time in March and intend to return to school full-time in September.4 In May of this year, they found that the unemployment rate for older students in BC (aged 20 to 24) returning to school in the fall was nearly 44% — a 33% increase from the previous year.5 The national unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 24 also rose to a record high in May, reaching over 29%.6 In a study produced this month, Statistics Canada reported that if the annual youth unemployment rate reaches as high as 28%, recent graduates could see income losses of $23,000 to $44,000 over the next five years.7
We recognize that this is not a one-sided issue. Landlords often rely on tenants’ monthly rent payments to subsidize their mortgage payments and other expenses. However, the narrative often portrayed in public discourse — that of multitudes of struggling landlords across the province — paints a false picture of tenant-landlord dynamics. The homeowner renting out their basement suite and struggling to pay their bills is not your typical landlord.
In an online survey conducted by McAllister Research in May 2020, only a minority of renters (22%) said they pay their rent to “a homeowner who lives in the same building,” with the remaining respondents paying corporate or other investor landlords.8 In the public debate surrounding rent forgiveness, many argue that landlords will suffer more if renters do not pay their rent. This is rarely the case, as the majority of “landlords” are not living paycheque to paycheque, and instead are profiting exponentially off of desperate people in need of a place to live.
Struggling with basic expenses is not a new problem for students. With monthly rent and utilities, high tuition costs (which are 4.5 times higher for international students than domestic students and can increase at any rate for international students),9 overpriced textbooks, transportation costs, and other expenses, students are left with limited funds to purchase basic necessities such as groceries.
A recent annual survey conducted by the Capilano Students’ Union at Capilano University found that over 47% of student respondents felt worried at least a few times over the course of a semester that they would run out of food before they had money to buy groceries.10 Nine percent of student respondents said they worried about this once a month, over 11% said they worried twice a month, and 8% of all student respondents said they worry about running out of food on a weekly basis.11
These challenges may seem insignificant to some, but for a student struggling to get through their degree or a recent graduate whose job prospects have vanished, these setbacks can be devastating. Students should not have to add an eviction to their ever-growing list of setbacks. The Province has the opportunity to recognize a vulnerable group in need of support, and step in to provide that help. Extending the eviction moratorium and continuing the BC Temporary Rental Supplement Program will give students a fighting chance, and provide security with the most essential support they need to thrive — a home.
We call on the Province of British Columbia to extend the eviction moratorium and continue the BC Temporary Rental Supplement Program for as long as the province is in a state of emergency, and to continue to support vulnerable renters for at least three months after.
Alliance of BC Students
Camosun College Student Society
Capilano Students’ Union
Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver
Langara Students’ Association
Northern British Columbia Graduate Students’ Society
Simon Fraser Student Society
University of Victoria Graduate Student Society