Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a massive $82-billion aid package to help Canadians and businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including direct income support, but some experts question whether it will be enough to help renters laid off or missing work due to COVID-19.
The emergency aid package includes $27-billion in direct support to Canadians to help pay for things like rent or grocery bills.
Trudeau said the newly announced Emergency Care Benefit would give those who qualify up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks. Trudeau also said Ottawa is temporarily boosting the Canada Child Benefit (CBB) over the coming months by $300 per child for the 2019-2020 benefit year.
“Our government will introduce the emergency care benefit which will provide money every two weeks to workers who have to stay home,” Trudeau told reporters outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa. “People will receive this benefit for 14 weeks for an amount comparable to the amount that would be paid through EI.”
Asked by reporters how the federal government is working to help those who may not be able to pay rent on time due to COVID-19, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the Emergency Care Benefit would provide funds to those who need it most.
“Those 5.7 million people who aren’t in the employment insurance system, those people are very important to deal with up front,” Morneau told reporters. “If they are sick or if they are quarantined or if they laid off or can’t work and aren’t getting paid they will have access to funds.”
Other measures announced today include a GST credit for low-income Canadians, a six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments and a doubling of the homeless care program.
“We are doing our best to make sure that we get the funds to the people who need it most on an urgent basis,” he said. “And we will continue to think about other methods to get money to people.”
There are roughly 4.4-million adults and families in Canada live in rental housing, according to the Canadian Mortgage Housing association, making up just under a third of total households.
And with the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment ranging anywhere from $1,400 in Montreal to over $2,200 in Toronto and Vancouver, Canadians who are forced to miss a paycheque or are laid off due to COVID-19 may be squeezed financially to make monthly rent payments.
“This is the money tenants need to pay their rent, but it’s too early to say whether this is enough, but it’s certainly better than nothing,” said Benjamin Ries, a lawyer and member of the Greater Toronto Clinic Housing Advocates. “But most people understand we don’t know how long the present circumstances are going to last.”
Thomas Davidoff, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, said the Emergency Care Benefit is a start but governments should also be looking at other measures like instituting rent freezes.
“Forcing private companies to modify contracts is tricky because you still want to maintain market confidence,” he said. “I think a national freeze on rent is something you’ll have to think about eventually.”
Global News reached out to all provincial governments with questions about how they are helping renters during the new coronavirus pandemic. This article will be updated as we responses come in.
Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has said no new eviction orders will be issued until further notice amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Jesse Robichaud told Global News the government is “actively looking at all tools and options to protect families and individuals as the public health situation evolves.”
“We understand that Tribunals Ontario is reviewing pending eviction matters in light of the rapidly evolving circumstances related to COVID-19 and that no new eviction orders will be issued until further notice,” Robichaud said in an email “In addition, Sheriff’s offices have been asked to postpone any scheduled enforcement of eviction orders currently set for this week.”
Quebec’s rental board is also suspending most eviction hearings and that only hearings dealing with the health and safety of a tenant or ones involving access to a rental unit will continue.
Quebec’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Andrée Laforest, announced eviction hearings are suspended until March 23. However, the tenants whose eviction has already been ordered remains unclear.
The Association of Housing Committees and Tenants Associations of Quebec had called on Minister Laforest to intervene, asking what would happen if tenants who have to quarantine find themselves without housing.
B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said that “all options are on the table” to support housing stability for renters, including a halt to evictions.
“BC Housing is currently updating their policies on evictions to support residents to stay in their homes,” the ministry said in a statement. “We understand how urgent this is for people. That is why we are working with renters, landlords and others right now to quickly find solutions that will ensure people are supported through these challenging times.”
Manitoba’s provincial government it’s reviewing all legislation to find ways to reduce pressure on residents, businesses and entrepreneurs, but would not commit to freezing evictions.
“If tenants are having difficulty paying their rent on time, or think they will have a problem, their first step should be to call their landlord to see if a payment plan can be arranged,” a government spokesperson said in an email. “We can work with the tenant and the landlord, through mediation if needed, to develop a legally-binding payment plan.”