Why the landlord lobby is wrong about the 4.5% increase

COPE City Council Candidates- Jean Swanson, Anne Roberts, Derrick O'Keefe
COPE City Council Candidates- Jean Swanson, Anne Roberts, Derrick O'Keefe

Everywhere I’ve canvassed around Vancouver for the past two weeks, I’m meeting and talking to lots of people who are angry about the recently announced rent hikes. Renters in this city have had enough, and many homeowners also express their opposition to the hikes. But there’s at least one group supporting the latest hikes.

Landlord BC argues that 4.5 percent is justified because average wages in B.C. have been growing at about same pace over the past 12 months. They even argue that 4.5 percent is too little as their costs are growing even more quickly. Let’s take a closer look at some of their data.

First, wages. Here’s a chart showing maximum rent increases alongside growth in median and average wages since 2003, the year before the inflation plus 2 percent rent formula came into effect.

Seen in its proper context, this very recent wage growth is a blip, one that is barely allowing workers to keep their heads above water, especially as housing costs have exploded over those same 15 years.

Since 2003, the cumulative maximum rent increases have been 67.8 percent. The median weekly wage has gone up just 7.9 percent in inflation-adjusted terms over the 15 years between 2003 and 2018, four times slower than allowable rent increases.

Remember that these increases only apply for ongoing tenancies; once a tenant leaves a unit, it’s open season and rents can increase by any amount. In fact, Vancouver has an epidemic of renovictions and demovictions to get around rent controls.

Second, Landlord B.C. is overstating the extent that rising costs are having on landlord bottom lines. If landlords only use some of their rental income to pay the rising expenses then they only need a much smaller (not proportional) increase in rents to cover them.

According to a recent Altus Group report, the expenses Landlord B.C. lists—property taxes, insurance, water and sewer, utilities, repairs and maintenance—make up just 22 percent of this typical building’s rental income. This means that even if these expenses are increasing by 7.6 percent on average per year as Landlord B.C. claims, that’s only 1.7 percent of total rental income

Both Ontario and Manitoba allow maximum rent increases in line with inflation, yet somehow landlords in those two provinces are not going bankrupt en masse. B.C.’s rent increase formula allows landlords in our province to pad their bottom lines. In the context of our housing emergency, there is simply no valid or moral reason to allow this latest 4.5 percent rent hike. What we need is a temporary Rent Freeze, a zero percent rent increase, to give tenants some relief as part of a comprehensive emergency action plan on housing and affordability in Vancouver.

As a renter myself, with a family with two young children, I know how tenants are already pushed to the brink. I know how anxious renters are and how these annual rent hikes hit our already squeezed-to-the-max budgets.

Landlords have a well-organized lobby. Renters in Vancouver need political representatives who who aren’t afraid to take on these powerful interests. On city council I’ll fight hard, together with my COPE colleagues Jean Swanson and Anne Roberts, to use all tools at our disposal to provide some long overdue relief to renters in Vancouver.

Derrick O’Keefe
COPE Candidate for Vancouver City Council
First published in the Georgia Straight

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