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With the temporary moratorium on evictions ending and leaving tenants with arrears at risk, immediate federal assistance is necessary
Across Canada, tens of thousands of tenants have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and found themselves unable to pay their rent. As of October, more than 125,000 Canadian households have accrued rental arrears totalling $150 million. In Ontario, more than one in 10 renters are in arrears on their rent.
Many tenants have already lost their homes. With the Ford government now lifting a temporary moratorium on evictions, many more tenants are at immediate risk.
Between November 1 of last year and January 31, Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Board held more than 13,000 evictions hearings, the vast majority related to non-payment of rent.
Immediate action needs to be taken to keep tenants in their homes. That’s why faculty and students from the Affordable Housing Challenge Project, a University of Toronto School of Cities initiative, joined more than 120 experts from across the country (including tenant associations, academics, and people with lived experience of homelessness) to prepare a practical solution.
The proposal, authored by the National Right to Housing Network and the Centre for Equality and Rights in Accommodation, was recently submitted to the federal government. It appeals to the government’s recent commitment through the June 2019 National Housing Strategy Act to work toward ensuring adequate housing is a right for all Canadians. The network’s proposal is calling for a federally funded rent subsidy – similar to the government’s commercial rent relief programs – to assist tenants in paying off arrears.
Even after receiving income support through programs such as CERB or EI, many tenants experienced a decrease in the affordability of their rent. Unemployed (and underemployed) tenants are using a variety of survival tactics during the pandemic to stay financially afloat. Some are making only partial rent payments. Some are building up debt. A subsidy would allow for funds to be transferred directly to tenants or to landlords.
When asked why no action has been taken to support tenants unable to pay their rent, the federal government often cites the fact that tenancy issues come under provincial jurisdiction and points to the support already provided through CERB.
Yet over the past year, billions of dollars have been offered to help commercial tenants with their rents. In September, the government redesigned and expanded the program to allow for billions more in retroactive, direct rent subsidies to commercial tenants based on reported reduction of income.
Meanwhile, for too many, government support has only provided enough to choose between paying already unaffordable rents and putting food on the table.
Importantly, we appreciate that many housing advocates argue that addressing the arrears crisis should not involve publicly subsidizing the losses of large landlords, whose profits have grown before and during the pandemic.
We agree that solving Ontario’s housing crisis ultimately requires significantly increasing investments in social housing and strong regulations to prevent the well-documented “de-tenanting” and rent-hiking practices that have made large, corporate landlords so profitable. So long as peoples’ homes are allowed to be treated as a commodity for financiers to extract profits from, Canadians will continue to experience housing crises.
However, with the temporary evictions moratorium ending, and provincial tenancy laws leaving tenants with any arrears at risk of eviction, immediate federal assistance is necessary.
Jeremy Withers is the outreach coordinator for the Affordable Housing Challenge Project at the School of Cities, University of Toronto. Susannah Bunce is an associate professor in the Department of Human Geography and City Studies and Alan Walks is a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto.