With more than 250,000 households in arrears, it’s time for rent forgiveness

In the bigger COVID picture, rent arrears of $350 million is a small sum that could easily be cancelled with the will of governments and landlords.

One year ago, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote an article for Options Politiques calling for a national discussion on rent forgiveness. The discussion never took place. The impact of lockdown measures on financially insecure tenant households has not been directly addressed by the federal or provincial governments – with few and mostly temporary exceptions. Instead, governments should tackle the problem head-on in forthcoming budgets. The evidence shows solutions are within reach if there is political will.

On average, tenants have lower incomes than homeowners, spend a larger share of their incomes on rent, and have little in the way of savings. They are also more likely to work in industries hard- hit by lockdown measures. These facts led some analysts to predict an avalanche of evictions. The avalanche hasn’t yet come; in part because provinces enacted partial and temporary eviction bans that postponed the problem, and in part because income-support programs – especially the now discontinued Canada Emergency Recovery Benefit (CERB) – provided crucial relief to most unemployed workers.

But relief is temporary. Meanwhile, tenants can feel the ground shifting beneath them… [Read More]