Mortgage deferral program sparks calls for nationwide rent freeze amid outbreak
TORONTO -- A day after six Canadian banks announced six-month deferrals on mortgage payments to ease economic hardships during the COVID-19 outbreak, relief for one segment of the population was notably absent: renters.
The banks announced Wednesday they would allow homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage during the crisis to defer mortgage payments for up to six months as a way of alleviating the financial pressure of the situation.
The announcement came on the same day as the federal government announced it would spend $27 billion on direct financial help and $55 billion for mostly tax deferrals. The stimulus package includes student loan payment pauses and increases to the Canada Child Benefit, among others initiatives.
Marva Burnett, president of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada, called the plan a “good start.” But he’s calling for a nationwide freeze on rent, similar to what homeowners have been offered.
“ACORN thinks the government should put the rent freeze on, a total rent freeze,” Burnett said in a recent phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “The people who are going to suffer the most are the renters, the lower-income people of Canada.”
ACORN Canada is a national organization of low- and moderate-income families with more than 130,000 members. The organization is aimed at addressing the financial needs of lower-income Canadians.
They are also calling for a temporary freeze on all payday and installment loans.
“All these things need to be taken into consideration because it’s mostly upper-income people that have a mortgage, lower-income people have installment loans to pay,” she said.
ACORN Canada isn’t alone in calling for a rent freeze, either. A Change.org petition calling for a six-month freeze on mortgage and rental payments has received more than 500,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.
“Cancelling rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the Covid-19 virus pandemic would relieve financial pressure, allow citizens to stay home from work without the added concern of losing their housing and limit the spread of the virus,” the description of the petition reads.
A move like this is not unprecedented. On Tuesday, the government of France announced a suspension of all rent payments and utility bills amid the crisis.
In an email to CTVNews.ca, the federal government said any relief on rent falls under provincial jurisdiction, but Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation President and CEO Evan Siddall urged any tenants receiving mortgage support to “refrain from evicting their fellow Canadians” during the outbreak.
“We expect landlords to suspend evictions,” Siddall wrote in the statement. “Housing providers have an important role to play in preserving our economy during these extraordinary times. We are all in this together.”
Several provinces --including Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick -- have already issued temporary bans on evictions.
A spokesperson for the British Columbia Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement that “all options are on the table” when it comes to housing in the province, including a previously announced temporary ban on evictions, though only among their non-profit partners.
In Alberta, the province announced $1,146 in provincial assistance for two weeks, directed at those who might be experiencing a shortfall during the pandemic. The province also applauded the banks’ decision on Wednesday and hopes landlords “accommodate their tenants at this difficult time,” according to a statement.
“We ask those landlords to show the same kind of flexibility,” the statement continued.
Canada’s other five provinces did not respond to requests for comment as of Thursday evening.
With files from The Canadian Press