It’s April 1st. Rent is due for the 1.5 million tenant households living in Ontario. Many people have lost their income and are forced to stay home. Loss of income for the half of Ontario tenants who earn less than $40,000 a year puts alarming stress on them and their families. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that more than half a million renter households in Ontario don’t have enough savings to get through a month without working. This is no April Fool’s Day joke – many tenants do not have the money to pay their rent today.
The pandemic crisis comes on top of an affordable housing crisis in Ontario. Tenants that live on low incomes have struggled month after month to pay skyrocketing rents. Historically low vacancy rates and government policies that encourage rent gouging – by failing to control rent increases when one tenant moves out and another moves in – have allowed many landlords to build their private wealth and leave the social costs to be paid by everyone else.
Now, we are facing a global pandemic. This crisis is forcing everyone to pay attention to the struggles of tenants and the precariously housed. Because sheltering in safe and secure housing is the only defence we have against the coronavirus. How sad that it took a pandemic to force society to take a deep look at the massive and growing income gap between the haves and the have nots.
These are trying times.
What tenants need right now is a government program that provides them with immediate rent relief. It is the responsibility of the province of Ontario to keep everyone safe and protected. We applaud Ontario’s Attorney General and the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs for taking urgent action to halt evictions temporarily. However, people need money to pay their rent now. It is dangerous policy to allow thousands of tenants to fall into rent arrears and face mass eviction once the pandemic is over.
The health and safety of our society is dependent on every person having the vital supports they need during the pandemic and afterwards.
So what’s the plan Ontario?
Will our government respond to the calls by tenants for immediate rent relief? Will our government look at the long term and put a plan in place to prevent mass evictions once this pandemic is over? Will the government strengthen housing law and policies to ensure Ontario renters are not living on the margins? This is the security that tenants need to get through this unprecedented crisis.