By Garry Marr
The Canada Emergency Commercial Rental Assistance program used less than half the money the government set aside to help commercial tenants with rent, according to an independent arm of Parliament. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said CECRA would end up costing the federal government about $937 million, far less than the original $2 billion budgeted, a reality that bolsters arguments that some landlords have avoided the program.
Under the joint program between the federal government and counterparts in the 13 provinces and territories, tenant rents were reduced by 75% in April, May and June and later extended by three months. Tenants were required to pay 25% of gross rent for those months, with the government covering 50% and landlords on the hook for the remaining 25%.
A number of jurisdictions tried to make the program all but mandatory by banning evictions of tenants if the landlord of a commercial property hadn’t applied to the program.
To be eligible, a tenant had to pay no more than $50,000 in monthly gross rent per location, generate no more than $20 million in annual gross revenues, and have temporarily ceased operations or experienced at least a 70% decline compared to pre-COVID-19 revenue.
With the program ceasing in September, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has called CECRA the “flawed rent relief program” and overdue to be fixed. “The unfairness of this program is off the charts, with established businesses from coast-to-coast being shut out of accessing help they need in order to keep their businesses going,” said Laura Jones, executive vice president at CFIB, in a statement. “Does it make sense for a dry cleaner on one side of the street to survive while the one on the other side shuts down simply because one landlord was able to apply for the program, and the other one wasn’t?”
Her group is advocating for tenants to access CECRA funds directly, regardless of their landlord’s participation. It also wants a continued ban on evictions.