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Residential Rent Relief Program Up To Provinces: Trudeau

Renters and small landlords across the country are still looking for support as May 1 approaches.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the steps of the Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on April 27, 2020. Trudeau said provinces are welcome to move forward with their own rent relief programs as May approaches.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the steps of the Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on April 27, 2020. Trudeau said provinces are welcome to move forward with their own rent relief programs as May approaches.

Provinces are welcome to move forward with their own relief for residential renters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said days after Ontario’s provincial government appealed to the feds for support for renters as May 1 approaches.

Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, sent a letter to Ahmed Hussen, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development on April 23, asking him to provide support for residential renters.

“When these families are forced to choose between food and rent, it also impacts Ontario landlords and the stability of our rental housing sector. With the May 1 rent payment due in a matter of days, we want to work with you to maintain the resiliency of the rental housing market now and in the future,” the letter reads.

Minister Clark also wrote that, “considering its potential magnitude and its national importance, we feel that the federal government is best placed to provide this support by leveraging existing initiatives.”

The federal government partnered with provinces and territories to introduce the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program to provide relief to small businesses, but neither the federal or Ontario provincial government has announced measures for residential renters.

Asked Monday about Ontario’s call for federal help on residential rent relief, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the 75 per cent wage subsidiary as benefits that renters can use to replace lost income and make their monthly housing payments.

“If provinces, in whom the relationship between landlords and renters is their jurisdiction, want to move forward with more help for residential rent, they can of course do that,” he said. “We will focus on giving the benefits to Canadians that will replace much of their paycheques so that they can pay their essentials.”

Many renters across the country are looking for support as another month’s rent payment approaches amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While some provinces have frozen evictions, tenants can still receive eviction notices.

In April, about 75 per cent of Canadian tenants paid their rent in full, and another 10 per cent paid it in part, according to CIBC’s deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal. Experts warn these numbers will decrease in subsequent months.

What could a rent relief program look like?

Ontario Landlords Association member William Blake, who has lobbied both levels of government, told HuffPost Canada he is hopeful there will be a concrete solution for tenants and landlords by at least June 1, if not sooner.

Although he said it’s a good start to see something in the works, “This type of program should have been implemented months ago when we started to realize how serious the COVID-19 pandemic really was.”

Blake said a long-term solution is needed to protect renters and small landlords — corporate landlords might be better positioned to survive, or use intimidation tactics to get money from tenants, he said. It’s unclear whether potential rent relief would apply to all landlords, or what criteria would be used to determine eligibility.

He said there are a few options being floated around for what form a rent relief program could take. In one, the government would pay 50 per cent of a tenant’s rent, the tenant would be responsible for 25 per cent, and the landlord would be responsible for the remaining 25 per cent.

WATCH: Ontario Premier Doug Ford tells tenants to prioritize food over rent payments. Story continues below.

In another, the government could give money directly to the landlords — similar to what happened in British Columbia, where the government introduced an up-to-$500 benefit paid directly to landlords if a renter has lost income because of the pandemic.

Another option — which Blake said most small landlords seem to be agreeing on — is for tenants to receive a grant or interest-free loan to pay directly to their landlord.

He noted a program could also give recovery money to landlords who didn’t get paid during the pandemic.

“It’s not like they’re reinventing the wheel. There are programs out there that help small businesses and their landlords get paid [during the pandemic]. It’s time for the government to start helping residential tenants.”

Blake said many small landlords have found that tenants who have collected the $2,000-per-month CERB have not used it to pay their rent. While he understands that they have many other expenses right now, he believes a rent bank or program where money goes to small landlords would be helpful.

Blake also said he hopes that if an agreement is reached between Ontario and the federal government, other provinces will follow suit.

A spokesperson for the federal office of the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development said in an email that Ministers Hussen and Clark “are in regular communication and share a commitment to working together on behalf of all Ontario families.”

“We will continue working with all of our provincial and territorial partners to ensure Canadians have the support they need and all possible options during this incredibly difficult time.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said both the provincial and federal governments have introduced measures to help Ontarians, pointing to the province’s $200 million social services relief fund to help service managers expand housing stability initiatives, including emergency loans for people who can’t afford rent.

In his April 24 press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said part of his job as premier is to advocate to the federal government on issues like rent.

“Rent alone, we’re doing it with businesses now, we need to do it with the tenants and landlords, for their residents,” he said. “Landlords, a lot of them aren’t big landlords, they’re just hardworking people who might have that couple units and they’re trying to survive.”

He said the federal government has been great “but we need more for residential rent.”

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