Housing an essential service during COVID-19
By Casey Edge
First a little history. COVID-19 got its name because it was identified in late 2019.
Apparently the global medical community and political leaders were unable to identify the widescale threat of this virus until only recently.
One organization that seemed to be on the ball was the National Basketball Association. The NBA announced a shutdown on March 12, and frankly, that was the first real warning shot that notified the general public this virus is very serious.
The virus is revealing just how interconnected construction is with the rest of the community. And just not interconnected, but an essential service.
On March 26, the BC government listed construction as a Non-Health Essential Service: “construction work, in accordance with PHO (Provincial Health Officer) direction, construction firms, skilled trades & professionals, & construction & light industrial machinery & equipment rental.”
All construction activity must be carried out following the advice of the PHO which the Victoria Residential Builders Association and other construction associations promote and posted on our website, along with daily updates here.
The precautions include:
- There should be no more than 50 people in the same space under any circumstances;
- Where possible employees should maintain a distance of two metres from each other;
- Post signage that limits the number of occupants in any elevator to four people at a time;
- Reduce in-person meetings and other gatherings and hold site meetings in open spaces or outside;
- Increase the number of handwashing stations and post signage that identifies their location;
- Maintain a list of employees that are currently working on sites and update this list daily;
- All common areas and surfaces should be cleaned at the end of each day. Examples include washrooms, shared offices, common tables, desks, light switches and door handles; and
- Anyone with COVID-19 like symptoms such as sore throat, fever, sneezing, or coughing must self-isolate at home for 14 days.
VRBA has asked the Premier to consider a province-wide order to temporarily extend the Noise Bylaw regulations to 10 p.m., considering it is daylight saving time. This will enable contractors to be more flexible with shift work promoting distancing.
The BC government is correct – housing, like groceries, is an essential service. The population did not stop growing in order to accommodate the pandemic.
People with deposits on properties have sold their homes and are expecting to move. It’s tough to self-isolate at home, if you don’t have a home.
In a Globe and Mail story, one realtor put it succinctly “Because of life, people will still have to move.” This includes divorce, downsizing and estate sales.
Another example of housing as essential, is the government’s moratorium on evictions for rentals, and a $500 monthly subsidy for those in need.
The government included a freeze on rent increases, yet there is no freeze on increasing municipal property taxes or DCCs, permits and fees. In reality, property owners are helping to subsidize the Ministry of Social Services, and this recognition by Premier Horgan would have been appreciated.
Also, the government is running ads reminding people, many who will be out of work, to pay the Speculation Tax on their vacation homes – homes that have been in families for generations. It is an opportunity for the government to lead by example and cut the tax.
Kudos to health care workers and first-responders continuing to do their jobs, along with construction and grocery workers showing up daily to provide essential services.
Their contributions help alleviate the unemployment rolls and provide taxes for the support system.
However, many trades are older, may have underlying conditions, or need to care for others and are staying at home.
Some contractors have shut down due to lack of trades, materials, or simply to reduce risk.
Nobody should be judged or penalized for their choices during these challenging times.
Including those choosing to continue to provide the essential service of housing.