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April 24: Join the ACORN Fair Banking Campaign Rally at Fairstone Metrotown. 

At CCEC we support the work of ACORN Fair Banking campaign. and have been providing our members with emergency short term loans for many years. We also provide debt consolidation services to help our members avoid the predatory lenders. 

Non-bank lenders like Fairstone are unregulated when they give out loans over $1500. They give out loans up to $20,000 at rates as high as 59%  which is still considered legal (under 60% is legal in Canada). Fairstone recently rebranded from CITI Financial. You may have heard of them as they were a leader in the US with predatory mortgages. In the US, they paid penalties of over $7 Billion for their role in financially destroying millions of Americans. So, they renamed their high interest loan outlets as Fairstone. ACORN's campaign for Fair Banking is putting Fairstone on notice that their days of unregulated lending are coming to an end.

The BC Government has introduced legislation that would license high-interest lenders, enabling them to cap the interest rates and other predatory lending practices. "Regrettably many people do not understand the true implications of taking out a high-cost loan only to find out later how hard and how long it can take to repay,” says Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society.

Email Metrovan@acorncanada.org for more info on ACORN's campaign and be sure to join the rally on April 24!  

Call CCEC if you need a short term or other loan. We want to work with our members to avoid them feeling they need to work with predatory lenders. 

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BC has a high rate of foreign ownership. Why? Wealthy people in unstable regimes want to buy here; we have a history of 'selling passports or residency' to wealthy families; and our current tax system subsidizes foreign ownership. The tax called the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) is aimed at limiting speculation, not necessarily taxing “speculators”.

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.  A few points from the article are noted here.

CRA  allows a wealthy person to access all of the social services and public amenities as the high-earning local individual, but not pay income taxes. They can file as a non-tax resident, even if their family resides here. This is the so called “satellite family” situation. Gordon, in his article, states that we can address this issue in the tax system by imposing a property surtax on families who have most of their income earned abroad. The speculation component of the SVT seeks to address a tax avoidance problem. 

However, there are many exemptions and foreign owners and satellite families are able to avoid a speculation tax liability if they rent out their properties to an arms-length tenant, in whole or in part. The  SVT aims to encourage unused housing units into the rental market with vacancy taxes. For many,  housing sitting empty, especially as speculative investments, in the midst of a housing crisis is unacceptable.

So, “Why don’t we just ban foreign ownership already?” Some have urged banning foreign ownership as an alternative to the SVT. With the foreign buyer tax, currently at 20%, purchases by foreign buyers are already down substantially at only 2-3 percent of total purchases last year in affected areas. 

The housing crisis is not an easy problem to solve. Learn more by reading this article about the SVT - Speculation and Vacancy Tax and it's intent and aims.  Tell us what you think. 

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.‚Äč

 

 

 

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Rent increases, renovictions, gentrification and unaffordability is a key issue we hear from those who have completed our member survey. CCEC is sponsoring Push at the 2019 DOXA Festival. The issue is not about gentrification, it’s a different kind of monster: Housing as a financial asset, a place to park money. The film looks at housing prices skyrocketing in cities worldwide. Longtime residents are pushed out. Not even nurses, policemen and firefighters can afford to live in the cities that they are supposed to protect. Push investigates why we can’t afford to live in our own cities anymore. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition to a safe and healthy life. But in cities all around the world having a place to live is becoming more and more difficult. Who are the players and what are the factors that make housing one of today’s most pressing world issues?  Click here to read more about the film. 

May 4 12:00nn Vancity Theatre: part of the Justice Forum and includes a post-film discussion.

May 10 6:00pm SFU

Buy Tickets here

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Released March 18, 2019 called, TogetherBC.

BC. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country, with more than 557,000 people living below the poverty line, including about 100,000 children. Nearly half of those who live in poverty work, and children from single-parent families, Indigenous people, refugees and people with disabilities are much more likely to be poor. In B.C., the poverty line is about $20,000 a year for singles and about $40,000 a year for a family of four.

The Plan brings together policy changes the NDP government has made since its 2017 election. Together, those changes are expected to reduce overall poverty by one-quarter and cut child poverty in half in the next five years. That means 140,000 people, including 50,000 children, should no longer be living in poverty by 2024.

“It’s a strategy that at its heart is about people,” said Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction. “It’s about the challenges they face every day just to get by. It’s about the right of every British Columbian to be seen to be valued, to have access to opportunities for a better life for themselves and their families.”

The Pan brings together policies already announced by the government, such as increasing minimum wage to $15.20 by 2021 and making childcare more affordable, which the government plans to spend $1 billion on between 2018 and 2021.

In this year’s budget, the government announced a new child tax credit, which boosts the money families with children get to a possible $1,600 per year, up to age 18. It also increased income and disability assistance rates by $50, bringing basic income assistance for a single, employable person up to $760 per month, still well below the poverty line. The plan uses the Market Basket Measure, which is based on what it costs to buy the goods and services for a modest, basic standard of living, to count people living in poverty.

Future changes could include initiatives on a basic income plan — a plan where all people would receive a minimum income, based on what it takes to live a basic life in BC. An expert panel is exploring the idea, including looking at what may need to happen as artificial intelligence and automation grow and the jobs of today disappear. It is also reviewing our income assistance programs.

Poverty costs all of us, every day. We see its effects in our schools, in our hospitals and on our streets as people struggle to get by. How poverty interacts with our justice and mental health systems is impossible to separate. Alleviating poverty benefits everyone — it’s money well spent.

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In the City of Vancouver, 44 per cent of tenants do not have affordable rent.  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines affordable housing as shelter that costs less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. ACORN BC says,” One in five households in Metro Vancouver spend half of their income or more on shelter”.

One year ago, the City of Vancouver said that $3,702 rent was “affordable” housing for a 3 bedroom and $1,903 for a one bedroom; and in East Vancouver a three bedroom rent of $3,365 was affordable.  

Rental housing is scarce.  A single mother is quoted on a CBC release saying, "Everything that was in my price range was kind of dumpy and just not suitable for my daughters and I." At a recent neighbourhood conversation held in Little Mountain Riley Park, community members commented on the lack of rental housing in the area citing that most housing is owned.  There are approximately 1.5 million renters in British Columbia today. Vacancy rates in BC are some of the lowest in the country, averaging 1.3% and in some communities, such as Vancouver and Kelowna, the vacancy rate has fallen below 0.9%.

Affordable housing is an issue in BC and more so in Vancouver. In April 2018, Premier John Horgan appointed a Rental Housing Task Force to advise on how to improve security and fairness for renters and rental housing providers in BC. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/rentalhousingtaskforce/   Their task was to receive submissions from interested parties, review the information and offer advice to the BC government on how it can “ensure safe, secure and affordable rental housing in BC”

Reading through the submissions that are available on line and comments provided by our members, you will see common threads.  A few comments are:

  • Councilor Jean Swanson says rents will keep rising unless vacancy control and rent freezes are implemented.
  • The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition says, “We are calling for stronger tenant protections including tying rent control to the unit as a central recommendation within an effective poverty reduction plan”. They add, “Without rent control tied to the unit, many of the government’s policy changes will not have the beneficial impact expected or hoped for”.  For example, the social assistance rate increases in the past year have been eaten up by increases in the cost of (SRO) rental housing.  Stronger tenant protections, and building affordable social and rental housing is needed.
  • The Office of the Seniors Advocate says, “The most vulnerable are the 20% per cent of seniors who are both low income and renters. The median income for BC seniors is $26,000 a year, who spend 35% of their income on housing, leaving them with $16,900 a year ($1400/month) to meet all other expenses. But, half of BC seniors who rent have a gross income of $21,000 ($1530 per month) or less. These seniors make tough choices on what bills to pay or prescriptions need to be filled (the deductible for Pharmacare was recently eliminated for those on low income but the co-payment remains). Many necessities including: assistance with housekeeping, grocery shopping, shoveling the sidewalk, a walker, eyeglasses and hearing aids, all have fees that add up and cannot be paid with their monthly income.
  • ACORN Members’ Top Three Priorities are Lack of affordable housing; Rent control loopholes; and Renovictions and demovictions.
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says, “There is a grave risk that all the improvements and gains experienced for low-income people due to minimum wage increases, welfare rate increases, child care fee reductions and more will be wiped out by rent increases”.

At the same time, Canada recognizes housing as a human right.  So, what did the BC Government learn through the Rental Task Force and what is next?  While they have a Report with recommendations released in the fall 2018, let’s look at what the latest BC Budget included:

  • Funding for 200 Modular housing units but Councilor (and CCEC Member). Jean Swanson, who introduced the city’s motion calling for 600 more modular homes, recently estimated there’s a need for 2,500 units in Vancouver.
  • Establishing a province wide rent bank, which provides low-interest loans to renters who need immediate, short-term relief to prevent unnecessary evictions.
  • Providing additional benefits to seniors living independently in rental accommodation, through the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, by an average of $930 per year,

There is also a groundswell of community members rallying and creating options to deal with the lack of affordable housing and coming up with various options.  For example, CCEC Member, the Galiano Community Loan Fund.  While they are not working specifically on the rental housing situation, they are providing funds to support housing on the Island and their story is worth mentioning. The fund was created by Galiano Islanders who have come together as lenders to support borrowers in the community who need access to affordable housing on the Island (and other needs).  Over the past 8 years, the fund has provided loan guarantees of approximately $100,000.  To date, they have not had one loan that has not been or is not being fully repaid.  Anita Braha, President for the Fund says, “Most, if not all of those loan guarantee decisions were made by the Board.  We know each other.  We are neighbours, friends, we may work together, we may volunteer together.  In most cases, the loans have a large component of character behind them”. 

Their model has been successful.  Anita says, “There seems to be a lot of interest in what I will call impact financing; that is, money raised and used to benefit people and communities”.  They have been contacted by various firms interested in community investment programs, seeking to better understand their fund and to get advice on this type of initiative. The Federal Government also recognizes the benefit of the social finance ecosystem and marketplace by investing $50million into an investment readiness stream  (Lauren Dobell, VCIB, Nov. 25/18)

Yes, housing and especially the lack of affordable rental housing is an issue.  Cities throughout B.C. have been too reliant on housing such as secondary suites to fill the rental stock.  We need to put more emphasis and reorient our thinking towards secure, long-term rental housing.

Share your thoughts and comments! 
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The nutritious diet recommended in the new Canada Food Guide is out of reach for millions of Canadians because they can’t afford it.

If we want to stop millions of Canadians from going to bed hungry every night, we need to ensure that they have the ability to access food. So, who is going hungry in this country?  We know that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada. However, did you know that we have a growing community of working poor whose wages do not cover basic necessities? Inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meagre pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity in this country.

Did you know that 31% of single mothers are missing meals so their kids can eat? Or that one in six children live in households that can’t afford to put supper on the table? In BC, the average monthly cost of the 2017 nutritious food basket for a family of four is now $1,019.  

Individuals don’t fare better. A person receives $760 per month on social assistance and has $18.25 per week to spend on food. Despite the two increases in the past year that have raised the rate to $760 per month, the additional $150 has been eaten by the increase of $130 in rents to Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (example).  Jean Swanson, speaking to her experience on the Welfare Food Challenge says, “It was hard eating on $19 a week (2017 amount). I tried, then cheated and gave up. The food was too boring and not nutritious. Dieticians have told us that you just can’t have a healthy diet on this paltry amount of money.”

The new Canada Food Guide aims to support people to live healthier lives. The new guide provides guidance on what we should eat that is more plants and plant-based protein, more whole grains, less sugar, less saturated fat—and more importantly,  how to eat—at home, with others, with joy and  pleasure. The addition of this social context is important. We know the power of food to connect us to our communities and neighbours thereby increasing our sense of belonging. 

The guidelines in the new Canada Food Guide are to be commended, especially introducing the social aspect on eating with friends, family and at home. As long as we continue to have poverty in our rich country, there will be millions of our neighbours who cannot afford to live healthier lives.  Poverty is the root of the problem for those who are food insecure. 

We encourage all our members to support the work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, and to support food and garden programs that allow all our community members to eat and share a meal together. CCEC will continue to advocate for decent living wages and fairer social benefits.

For more information:

The new Canada Food Guide highlights the biggest obstacle to healthy eating—poverty – McLeans Article

The New Canada Food Guide

Jean Swanson on Why the Welfare Food Challenge was cancelled in 2018

 * Food Costing in BC 2017: Assessing the affordability of healthy eating  October 2018

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Time to grow the movement

According to a recent Bloomberg Survey, 37% of insolvencies in Ontario involved a payday loan (source)

Worse still, the report suggests that the numbers are getting worse. The loans are getting bigger, and more people are falling into the trap. Because, let's face it; it is a trap.

While things are different in BC, they are not necessarily better. With a cooling real estate market, Canada on the brink of recession, and jobs increasingly moving to the "gig economy", the need for fairer solutions to banking is growing daily. The market of the precarious is lucrative for exploitative payday lending institutions. The BC government just announced that it is moving to protect some consumers with new proposals to regulate this sector, which is to be applauded.

CCEC offers emergency small-dollar loans to its members in an attempt to offer a more viable alternative. But we need policy change; which is why we support ACORN and their pleas for fair banking measures to be brought front and centre.

Add your name to the push, and tell your local MP to step up! https://www.acorncanada.org/take-action/tell-your-mp-its-time-fair-banking

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Good for most families, disappointing for individuals.  The first-ever Poverty Reduction strategy reflected in the BC Budget announced February 19, 2019, brings good news for low-income families but did not ‘raise the rates’ to lift those on social assistance out of poverty. At the same time, some of the investments made, while small on the scale of the budget, may significantly change the lives of some of our more vulnerable community members.

BC has some of the highest levels of poverty in Canada for all age groups. In a wealthy province like ours, such poverty and homelessness is unfair and unnecessary. It is also extremely expensive.

This blog outlines a few areas of the budget we feel are of most interest to our members and member groups. We encourage you to read further through the links at the end of this blog.

For Families:

Student loans become interest-free as of today. A good start, however, some provinces provide grants that you don’t pay back and some countries provide free post-secondary education.  We will see improvements to employment training programs delivered by WorkBC, additional funding to increase access to adult basic education and English language training and a small funding boost for trades training.

The new BC Child Opportunity Benefit is great news for low-income families with children.  The expansion of the provincial child benefit increases the provision from 6 years old to 18 years old. However, by setting the threshold for the maximum benefit at $25,000 means that many single mothers and other families will see their benefit reduced while they are still below the poverty line.

For Individuals:

One in three singles live in poverty in BC.  180,000 people live on income assistance.

The increase to welfare and disability rates of $50 per month will remain thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Benefits for single, employable individuals will continue to be less than 50% of the poverty line (as measured by the Market Basket Measure). Now a single person on income assistance will receive $760 per month. It is felt that disability rates should be increased to $1,500 per month and index rates to the cost of inflation. It takes: 1.16billion to bring up income assistance rates to the poverty line in BC which is only 1% of the provincial GDP.

Homelessness

In BC, it is estimated that 7,700 people are homeless.

The Budget included funding for 200 new units of Temporary Modular Housing units beyond the 2000 announced last year. Also, $15 million in funding to develop a province-wide homeless response strategy over the next three years.  In Vancouver this past year, we brought online 650 units of housing, demonstrating that we can eliminate homelessness if this is prioritized.

Given the surpluses budgeted over the next three years, we have the capacity to invest more substantially in poverty and homelessness.  We look forward to seeing more significant measures and the long-term vision in the full poverty reduction strategy to be released shortly.

References used in this blog are:

 BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

Inclusion BC

Raise the Rates

Central 1 Flash Report

CCPA

 

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Inequality is one of the big issues of our time, and it will not be reversed by philanthropy.  That was one frank assessment by a Dutch historian who recently took part in a Davos panel.  Yes, at the international conference for the wealthy elite convened in Switzerland annually.  Rutger Bregman called out the bankers, politicians and tech billionaires for being all talk and only serving themselves. His remarks became a social media sensation.   Bregman's recent book is Utopia for Realists and it appears to touch a nerve with some - perhaps a Utopia for others. 

We have a system that rewards the wealthy with praise and status if the 'give back'.  But this is a sham, or even a scam.  No matter what wonderful things a few very wealthy people may support, the system is simply designed to make them all richer. Another book, Winners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas, has received great reviews because the book clearly describes the corrupt model; the shortcomings of celebrity billionaires, their foundations, and their vanity. 

The CCPA has outlined how the game is being played by Canada's billionaires

It will take more than a few outspoken voices to re-balance the tax burdens in Canada and elsewhere.  This is an issue with many faces.  Recent changes to property taxes in BC are step in the right direction.  Higher marginal income taxes for the rich and fewer tax exemptions are needed. We need to support measures that will maker our tax system fairer.  And we have to challenge the myth that the charity of the super-rich is some kind of answer.   

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Control is a complex subject.  In our increasingly centralized and corporate world, control is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.  In this era of globalism we have some very large companies that have enormous influence.  Unfortunately, we then are confronted with how we can hold these billionaires and financiers accountable.  Governments even start to look small by comparison. Voting in our elections may provide leverage but big money is at play in elections too.  But beyond government, communities may assume 'ownership' directly.

Co-operative democratic ownership is a radical alternative model for organizing commerce, as is the democratic non-profit association.  It is through these models real 'DEMOCRACY' is achieved.  But these models rely on people to step up and participate, in pursuit of the common good.  The crux is for individuals to realize that a vote, every few years, is a bare minimum.  Responsible citizenship requires more of us. 

Corporate capitalism asserts that 'markets' will hold commercial enterprises accountable.  However, this has not proven to be the case; government regulation is needed to ensure transparency, safety, equitable treatment, and reasonable choice. And regulation is a constant field of struggle.  In addition, the dominant corporate model has two major shortcomings - the tendency to consolidate (create monopolies) and the tendency to place higher costs on those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder (e.g. payday lenders). 

The co-operative model, like the one we have at CCEC, gives consumer members the ownership responsibilities.  Ordinary people (though their representatives) assume control.  In this community ownership model 'profit maximization' is not the primary objective.  

In BC and in Canada the co-operative model is in some stress.  While some large co-ops and credit unions appear to be successful, the role of the members-owners has been eroded.  Democracy has been diminished. Small co-ops and projects become even more important.  Participation is key - as directors, on advisory committees, and as volunteers - that ensures 'control' rests with the people, but also generates debate, innovation and social change.

Democracy relies on ordinary people taking part, stepping up, and 'seizing' control in service of the common  good.

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