Landlords have been able to apply for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program for a week now.
The federal initiative aims to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
But landlords have to opt in, and some Kingston, Ont. business owners say they have received word their landlords will not apply.
“We mainly blow glass and make unique sculptures,” says small business owner Mariel Hunter.
Hunter has operated the Kingston Glass Studio and Gallery, on Queen Street since 2006.
She was forced to lay off four full-time staff in mid-March because of the pandemic.
“I was nervous for my employees,” says Hunter, “and I wanted to do the right thing.
“I kind of saw the direction it was all going, so we decided to shut the doors, right before lockdown … maybe a week before.”
Since then, Hunter and her business partner have struggled to pay their rent of $2,800 a month.
“(In the) coming months I know it’s going to be very hard,” says Hunter, “and any relief is going to help us.”
In Ontario, where over a million small businesses are concentrated, concerns from owners about paying rent have grown particularly loud.
“We have received calls from a number of our smaller tenants,” says Gennaro Disanto, CEO of CaraCo Development Corporation, “and we are communicating with them and laying out the information requirements that we need, for us to apply … basically on their behalf.”
Hunter is one of those tenants and feels small business owners should have been able to apply themselves.
“The program is failing because it was left in the hands of the landlord,” says Hunter.
“If the tenants were able to apply for it, we would have got the relief by now … since we are the ones who have to be eligible for it.”
“We really never said we weren’t going to do it,” says Disanto, “we just said we needed more information when it was first introduced.”
The CECRA program allows landlords to apply for half the rent for small businesses, up to $50,000 a month, for three months.
The tenant pays 25 per cent and landlord then forfeits the remaining 25 per cent.
Hunter says if enough landlords decide not to apply, downtown Kingston could be forever changed.
“We’re going to lose half the restaurants. We’re going to lose half the stores. A lot of people cannot make money online,” says Hunter, “and for a lot of people their biggest expense is the rent.”
It is unclear if CaraCo will be applying for the rent relief program.