Posted June 1, 2022
Low-income tenants across Toronto could soon see rent assistance from the city permanently become a grant program rather than its earlier iteration, which issued loans.
On Tuesday, councillors on the city’s Planning and Housing Committee approved without debate a motion by York South-Weston Coun. Frances Nunziata to approve city housing secretariat executive director’s recommendations to make the Toronto Rent Bank program into a permanent grant-based program and forgive some or all of previously issued loans.
Members of Toronto ACORN, a community union of low- to moderate-income families advocating for social and economic justice, lauded the recommendations and encouraged committee members to support it.
The Toronto Rent Bank provides interest-free loans to low-income residents experiencing rent arrears or who require help with a rent deposit to avoid homelessness.
A year ago, Toronto City Council approved a year-long pilot program to provide grants instead of loans to new applicants, and to suspend any existing clients’ loan repayments during the pilot.
The pilot seems a success.
As of March 31, 1,744 Toronto households avoided eviction by receiving a grant since the pilot began on May 1, 2021. That’s a 52 per cent increase — or an additional 594 households — who avoided eviction compared to 2020 when 1,150 households received a loan, the city reported.
Sheila Farr, a member of ACORN’s Etobicoke chapter, made the case for the city rent grant program to become permanent.
Farr called the program “a lifesaver” for the 1,700 families across Toronto who avoided eviction during the pilot.
“Earlier in the pandemic, ACORN and community groups called on all levels of government for rent relief,” Farr said. “As you know, countless individuals were financially impacted by the pandemic; many lost their jobs or had their hours cut substantially. We heard of many people being behind on their rent through no fault of their own and losing their homes during pandemic.”
The pilot “clearly worked,” Farr said, urging councillors to make it permanent.
“Keeping people housed is essential for health and quality of life, and the rent grant is one tool that has helped keep people in their homes,” Farr said.
Toronto ACORN Weston chapter leader Marcia Stone said she was pleased to see the city make the grants retroactive to the start of the pandemic.
“This helped so many families and individuals not go further into debt by taking out a loan,” Stone said. “People already lost income, and many have had rely on predatory lenders to take out a high-interest loan to help pay for rent, food, rent and other bills, which is why loans taken out with the rent bank should continue to be forgiven.”
Stone said not needing to repay the loan was a “huge relief” to many tenants.
“The money they were able to save meant could feed their families, afford bus fare, pay for medication and other everyday living expenses,” Stone said.
She urged councillors to make the rent grant pilot permanent.
“At the end of the day, housing is hell and we must do everything we can to keep people housed,” Stone said.
Toronto City Council will consider the matter at its June 15 meeting.
Article by Tamara Shephard for toronto.com