COVID-19 has hit food bank clients hard, with one of the primary challenges being housing. In our recent report, Hunger Lives Here: Risks and Challenges Faced by Food Bank Clients During COVID-19, 81% of respondents were now spending over half of household income on rent, compared to 67% before the pandemic. With 34% of respondents unable to continue paying rent in four to six months if the crisis continues, we are facing a potential future crisis of evictions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary pressure on low-income households across Canada. Between February and April, 5.5 million Canadians lost their jobs or had hours cut, with low-wage workers experiencing the heaviest losses. With this income loss, many tenants have been unable to pay rent, even as COVID-19 has underlined the public health importance of secure and adequate housing.
The current evictions moratorium in Ontario has prevented enforcement of eviction orders due to rent non-payment since March, allowing tenants to remain housed for now. However, tenants are still able to accumulate arrears, for which they may be evicted once the moratorium is lifted. Data from the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) show that since March, over 6,000 Ontario tenants have had eviction applications filed against them for rent non-payment. With the moratorium about to be lifted, these tenants may soon lose their homes.
The threat of eviction is exacerbated by the recent passage of Ontario Bill 184, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act. The Bill introduces troubling changes to tenant protections which make it easier to be evicted for rent non-payment. Key concerns with Bill 184 include:
- Reduced tenants’ access to justice: Bill 184 makes it more difficult for tenants to defend themselves against eviction. Tenants must now give advance notice of any new issues (e.g. lack of landlord repairs) they wish to raise in an eviction hearing to help defend themselves. Bill 184 also now allows landlords to evict tenants immediately without a hearing if they miss a scheduled repayment of rent arrears. Barriers such as these will disproportionately affect more marginalized tenants, such as tenants with limited English.
- Lack of enforcement for new protections: Bill 184 does introduce some valuable protections, such as increased penalties for illegitimate landlord activity. However, it fails to include sufficient measures to ensure these protections are enforced.
- Failure to incorporate measures which would help vulnerable tenants, such as rent relief, better rent control, or a ban on future evictions for rent arrears accrued during the pandemic.
Protecting the right to housing is critically important to poverty reduction, food security, and post-COVID recovery. We recommend that the provincial government provide a temporary rental supplement program to assist households in affording their rent until the economy has recovered and provide funding to municipalities to enhance access to no-interest loans through Rent Banks to help with rent arrears. With the passage of Bill 184 and new data showing how close many Ontarians are to eviction, it is clear much work remains to be done to protect tenants.
- Learn and share what tenants should know about navigating evictions now that Bill 184 has passed