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COVID-19 could cost Vancouver half a billion dollars, lead to further layoffs: mayor

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Apr 12, 2020 at 3:57 pm PDT

FILE - Vancouver City Hall (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 Photo)

25 per cent of residents will pay less than half of their 2020 property tax bill: survey

Kennedy Stewart concerned about revenue losses

Mayor calls on federal, provincial governments for help

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The City of Vancouver could be forced to lay off more staff and sell municipal land if the federal and provincial governments don’t provide more help to cope with COVID-19, according Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

A recent survey commissioned by his office found 25 per cent of residents will pay less than half of their 2020 property tax bill, while six per cent don’t plan on paying anything at all.

That would translate to a loss of $325 million for the city, Stewart said in an interview, combined with $189 million it is already expecting to lose in revenues.

“The city would be in dire financial circumstances, really unable to perform our most basic duties, and this isn’t just the City of Vancouver, this is happening right across Canada,” he added.

“What that would lead to is us doing massive layoffs, cuts, using up all our reserve funds and selling city land in order to just balance the books. I don’t think the City of Vancouver has ever been in this kind of position.”

Stewart said Vancouver needs “immediate help” from the federal and provincial governments.

The survey was conducted by Research Co., an independent firm, about the economic impacts of COVID-19 on Vancouver residents. The results were released on Easter Sunday.

“The research is clear — the city’s finances are going to be negatively affected by COVID-19 due to lost revenues and hard-hit homeowners defaulting on their property taxes,” Stewart says in a release.

“It’s illegal for Vancouver and other local governments to run deficits, so the only way we can stay afloat is with the help of the federal and provincial governments. Otherwise, local governments will be forced to take drastic measures that will hurt residents and businesses, and significantly slow any post-pandemic economic recovery.”

Earlier in the week, the city asked the provincial government for $200 million in emergency funding to help maintain essential services and continue to support vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

The city previously issued temporary layoff notices to 1,500 staff and declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

The online survey was conducted between April 9 and April 10.

It shows that 46 percent of those living in the city have either lost their jobs or experienced a reduction in hours due to COVID-19.

Half of all households are reporting an overall decrease in income, while 24 per cent are experiencing a significant decrease.

For homeowners, only 68 per cent said they could pay their full mortgage payment last month, and only 55 per cent will be able to do the same in May.

For renters, only 70 per cent managed to pay their full rent in April. Only 63 per cent said they can pay their full rent in May.

“My heart goes out to those who have lost their jobs, or are experiencing a significant reduction in work due to COVID-19,” Stewart says in the release. “I am especially concerned for those
renters having trouble making their rent and homeowners who cannot make their full mortgage payments.”

Stewart said previously the city will not be cancelling property tax payments, but rather look to postpone them, as Port Coquitlam has done, and called on the province to expand the B.C. property tax deferment program.

The Vancouver 2020 municipal budget, approved in December, featured a property tax increase of seven per cent.

The city closed most all municipal and recreational facilities, as well as placed restrictions on many non-essential businesses due to COVID-19. Stanley Park was closed to vehicle traffic on Wednesday, as well.