Hamilton Spectator: Relief sought for Hamilton renters amid COVID-19 crisis

Posted March 24, 2020

CityHousing will not evict tenants from its buildings for arrears as laid-off workers in Hamilton struggle to make ends meet during the coronavirus crisis.
Roughly 12 to 15 per cent of the social-housing provider's 7,000 units are just-below market rent and not deeply subsidized like the rest, says Coun. Chad Collins, board president.
"Everyone's safe in their units right now. We are not evicting anyone."
The hospitality and retail sectors have been hit hard as businesses follow provincial orders to shutter or limit their operations, resulting in layoffs.
In Hamilton, accommodations and food services account for 1,092 businesses with employees, or about 7.4 per cent of total businesses with employees.
And Monday, the provincial government declared a state of emergency in Ontario, mandating that all non-essential businesses must be closed until April 6 to help curb the virus.
Amanda Elliott joined the ranks of workers who have lost work after Tim Hortons in Jackson Square laid her off. "We went from being busy to dead in like less than a week," she said Monday.
Pay from her part-time job allowed Elliott — whose disability pension fluctuates according to her work hours — allowed her to put money away for emergencies. "It helped a lot," she said. "I was excited to go into work."
Housing has been a struggle for her: The 36-year-old lost her place — a mouldy apartment — after a dispute with a landlord and now lives with a friend. But Elliott looks forward to a CityHousing unit of her own — and her four cats — as of April 1.
Collins said it remains to be seen how the social-housing provider will weather the deferral of rental revenue.
An anticipated $170-million federal boost via the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to put toward a massive repair backlog hasn't materialized yet, he said. "We're a bit worried about what the future holds."
Hamilton ACORN, meanwhile, is pushing for a temporary rent-free period for all tenants, a moratorium on evictions for those who fall into arrears, and a freeze on rate hikes.
In a new report, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found out of 3.4 million renter households in Canada, roughly half have less than a month's worth of savings, and one-third have two weeks or less.
Effort Trust, a major landlord in Hamilton, has "suspended" applications relating to unpaid rent at the Landlord and Tenant Board, vice-president David Horwood said Monday.
"We will work with all tenants who may be in rental arrears, and will exercise flexibility including payment arrangements where practical," Horwood said, adding annual increases have been suspended, too.
CLV, which manages larger apartment blocks in Hamilton, will also not hike rent hikes during the crisis, said spokesperson Roseanne MacDonald-Holtman said.
The municipality, meanwhile, is reviewing how it could help renters, said Paul Johnson, director of the city's emergency operations centre, during a media update Monday afternoon.
Johnson said various levels of government are providing or considering relief for mortgage holders and property taxpayers. "But the renters wouldn't get the full benefit of that. We'll have to look at that. Those are ongoing conversations with our housing providers."
Johnson said the city will examine how Ford's announcement Monday of $200 million in social-service funding for municipalities could play a role in helping tenants.
Alectra Utilities say it will provide customers "flexible payment terms" and not disconnect them during the crisis.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator

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