While nearly 70 per cent of people surveyed said the pandemic has impacted their financial situation, 42 per cent said they didn’t qualify for other COVID-19 government relief or employment insurance programs (almost 33 per cent said they did qualify and 20 per cent said they didn’t know).
When asked if they were short on rent for May 1, 34 per cent said they were and almost 21 per cent said they may be.
ACORN is now calling for immediate rent relief among other measures, with virtual rallies planned across the country.
“The purpose of the report and rallies is to show how dire the situation is, and to remind Mr. Trudeau that more needs to be done to help the people who are being left behind,” ACORN president Marva Burnett said in a press release.
The Ontario government has also been pressuring Ottawa to step in with a specific program to help residential tenants make rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark wrote to the federal government last week asking for it to partner with Queen’s Park on a program for residential rent relief.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that it was up to the provinces to fund that kind of relief.
“We recognize that Canadians need money for an awful lot of things — particularly when they no longer have a pay cheque coming in — whether it’s rent, whether it’s groceries, whether it’s supporting the family members,” said Trudeau, adding that was why the federal government created the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and wage subsidy programs, which can be used towards rent.
“If provinces in whom the relationship between renters and landlords is their jurisdiction want to move forward with more help for residential rent, they can, of course, do that,” he said.
Asked about the rent assistance program for commercial tenants announced by the federal government in partnership with provinces like Ontario, Trudeau said small businesses “needed extra support.”
In a statement to the Star on Tuesday, Clark’s office pushed back, saying it appreciated the support for the commercial rent assistance program, but there is “more work to be done to support the people of Ontario through these challenging times.
“That’s why we are calling on the federal government to provide additional support for residential landlords and renters, given its national magnitude and importance,” the statement from spokesperson Julie O’Driscoll said.
“This support is greatly needed and, just as they did with the commercial rent program, we’re calling on the federal government to work with us on a program to support residential tenants and landlords.”
The federal government did not respond to questions from the Star on Wednesday about why residential tenants aren’t being considered for extra support.
The federal and provincial governments are already partnering on the more than $900 million Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (OCECRA), according to a press release. The program asks those eligible landlords and tenants to each cover 25 per cent of before-profit costs with the governments covering the other 50 per cent.
Advocates say a similar partnership is needed for those tenants.
Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto-St. Paul’s), who has been pushing for government intervention since before April rent was due, said current federal benefits leave some tenants choosing between rent and groceries.
“For both landlords and tenants it doesn’t matter which level of government addresses their crisis, it’s that their crisis needs to be addressed,” he said. “Every single day, whether it be the federal or provincial government, we hear announcement after announcement from our governments about providing relief to various groups in our society who aren’t able to make ends meet. Renters and landlords are waiting for their announcement and they don’t care who makes it.”
On Thursday, Mayor John Tory joined the call for the federal government to work with Ontario to provide some kind of rent relief. Tory has repeatedly asked for landlords and tenants to work together to find ways to defer, but not necessarily forgive, rent payments.
“I know there are tenants out there who need the federal government to work with the provinces, including the province of Ontario, to do more,” he said.
Daryl Chong, president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, which represents landlords, agreed a relief program for residential tenants and property owners is needed now.
“These are really unprecedented times and all governments need to work together on some direct residential rent assistance,” he said.
He also pointed to the commercial rent assistance program as successful partnership.
“We just hope that something similar like that is going to be available to residential landlords,” he said.
Chong said some landlords have reported normal levels of on-time rent payment, while others have reported only 60 per cent payment, which is unusual.
The B.C. government is offering a rent relief program, with up to $500 a month available for qualifying tenants paid directly to landlords in April, May and June — a model Chong said could work in Ontario.