Small businesses concerned about accessibility to rent assistance program

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The government program to provide small business owners with rent relief during COVID-19 is criticized for not being accessible to those who need it most.

CityNews interviewed a number of companies that said their owners were ineligible or refused to ask for 75% rent relief.

Under the Canada Emergency Rental Assistance Plan for commercial rents, the small business owner and the owner would each cover 25% of the rent, while the federal and provincial governments would step in to allocate the remaining 50%.

Celina Blanchard, the owner of Lambretta Pizzeria in Roncesvalles, said she will have to close its doors permanently this weekend because its owner is not applying for the cost-sharing program.

Blanchard’s monthly rent is $ 13,000, which she paid in April, in the hopes that the government would announce corporate relief.

“They empowered the owner, not the business owner,” said Blanchard. “I think it would have been better to offer the relief to small businesses, so we could have paid the rent and everything else. I feel helpless. “

There were previous disagreements between the two parties before the pandemic. CityNews contacted the owner of Blanchard to ask him why he was not applying for the program.

A representative responded on behalf of the owner, saying that he was not eligible for the program because the mixed-use building did not have the required 30% commercial component.

A requirement set out by the provincial government on April 24. However, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), which is responsible for administering the program in partnership with the provinces, said the requirement has been removed.

“It has been removed to ensure that the program covers small commercial tenants in multi-unit residential buildings who are also struggling financially and in need of support,” wrote a CMHC spokesperson.

“All I ask is a chance for him to apply and get an answer,” said Blanchard. “It doesn’t give me much hope. It’s not a mandatory program, an owner can choose to do it or not, I don’t have much power over that. “

In the west end of the city, owners of a dress rental store paid $ 9,000 in rent in April, despite losing 100% of their income. Angela Pastor, co-owner of The Fitzroy, said that the owner had refused to request the rescue program.

“They said they weren’t able to lose 25% of their crude oil, which, you know, we aren’t either, but that’s the situation we were all put in, and so it was really disappointing to hear that they will not be working with us, ”said the pastor. “We have spoken to many other business owners, and no one we know has said that their business owner will participate. So I think, unfortunately, he will have to be mandated. I mean, these owners have the fate of all of our businesses in their hands. “

CityNews contacted the owner on Thursday, but had no response until Friday’s deadline.

When asked what options businesses have in these situations, CMHC responded that businesses may be eligible for other credit support programs. Finance Minister Rod Phillips did not offer a solution on Friday during the provincial update, saying only that the relief program should bring peace of mind to both parties.

“This program was designed to evolve quickly and generate money,” said Minister Phillips. “We want to make sure that the 900 million is released as quickly as possible.

The minister and, in recent days, Prime Minister Doug Ford, have called on the two parties to work together.

Did you miss the mark?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last Friday that the federal government would provide financial support to small businesses that could not afford to pay rent because of COVID-19.

The cost-sharing program which would force the owner of the mortgaged property to agree not to evict his commercial tenants and not to pay rent.

A beach fitness studio also wrote a letter to local politicians, calling on the province to make changes to the program. The owners of Pendo Studios say they are eligible for the program, they don’t know when and even if their owner will ask for help.

“If it’s 100%, down to the owner, then we’re at their mercy, all small traders or commercial tenants are at the mercy of a reasonable or unreasonable owner,” said Cheryl Edman, co-owner of Pendo Studios . “Before the details of the program are released to the public, we ask for some sort of mandate that forces the owner to participate in the program, if the tenant requests it.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said 50% of businesses said they needed help for May. So far, 10% say their owner has agreed to participate in the program, 10% said the owner of the property would not apply, and about 40% of small businesses are unsure if there will be a owner who will apply for the program.

With the program not yet operational on May 1, the CFIB’s executive director says it could be problematic for some owners.

“One of the big challenges for homeowners is that there are details about the program that you cannot apply for this program until mid-May,” said Laura Jones. “So you know that you are offering a 75% discount basically on the good faith that you will get the money. For some owners, who themselves find themselves in difficult financial situations, [this is] turn out to be a really, really difficult dilemma “

CFIB is also concerned about some of the eligibility requirements for small businesses, saying that the 70% loss of income guideline leaves many others still struggling to survive the pandemic.

The organization also said the province can take steps to protect small businesses.

“I think the provinces can do two things: protection from eviction, which costs them nothing,” said Jones. “The second thing they could do is give hardship grants to companies that are falling through the cracks, so some of these federal programs, of course.”

The rent relief program is so far available until the end of September and retroactively in effect for the months of April, May and June.

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