Here's what's available to help Ontario renters through COVID-19

In Toronto, a city where 47 per cent of people rent, many are wondering what to do when April 1 arrives and their rent is due.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $82 billion in aid for families and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeowners were given the option to defer their mortgages for up to six months.

But because they don't pay a few large corporations in the same way homeowners pay a few banks, renters don't have a similar option.

There are private corporations that own rental buildings and also individual families who may own a rental unit or two. Coordinating an array of landlords is tougher than a several banks with structured management. 

On top of that, rent is largely provincially regulated. For Torontonians, it's the province of Ontario that comes up with rental laws, not the federal government.

That being said, here are a few ways renters might find relief:

Money intended to help renters 

The new Emergency Care Benefit would provide those who qualify $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks. It's designed to help workers who are quarantined or sick, including those who are self employed and don't qualify for EI.  

The Canada Child Benefit (CBB) is also getting a boost of $300 per child for the 2019-2020 year.  

If you owe any money to the Canada Revenue Agency, you now can delay the payment until Aug. 31 without incurring any interest or penalties. 

Along with mortgage deferrals, the big banks are providing customers with other forms of relief like skipping line of credit payments. 

There's also a six-month interest free reprieve on student loan payments. 

"Create a rent bank where there are no interest loans to help tenants bridge the gap." - Dania Majid

It's all these measures combined that are supposed to put money back in renters' pockets. The province has also stepped in saying that there will be no new eviction notices issued so renters won't end up on the street because of COVID-19. 

Province should do more, say some

Many housing advocates applaud the call for no evictions, but say more needs to be done to help renters, especially in a city like Toronto where the average one-bedroom condominium goes for $2,300. 

Dania Majid, a staff lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, says the province should consider launching a fund for those unable to pay their rent. 

"They could create a rent bank where there are no interest loans to help tenants bridge the gap," said Majid. "Or set up some type of repayment plan."

Majid also wonders how long the province will be halting evictions for. She worries that tenants could fall behind, and in six months be evicted. 

The federal government can also encourage the province to do more, says University of Toronto law professor Benjamin Ries. 

"It can provide additional transfer funds to assist provinces dealing with this," said Ries. 

'Cancel rent for April 1'

Geordie Dent, the executive director of Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations in Toronto, says rent for April 1st should be waived across the country. 

CBC Toronto asked the federal government whether more can be done to help renters. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Canada's national housing agency, echoed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's message that "the first defence for renters is income support measures." 

"We expect any housing provider who has received funding or mortgage loan insurance from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, either directly or through the provinces or territories, to act compassionately and refrain from evicting their fellow Canadians. We expect landlords to suspend evictions," said Evan Siddall, CMHC's president and CEO. 

The Ford government has also been pressed on the matter.

On Thursday, when Premier Doug Ford was asked what additional measures were being considered for renters, he said his government is "working hand in hand with the federal government on their stimulus package."

Ontario's finance minister will be releasing the province's stimulus package on Wednesday.