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Tenant-landlord dealings: COVID-19 implications more dire for social housing

Wednesday, May 13, 2020 @ 10:36 AM | By Ismail Ibrahim


Ismail Ibrahim %>
Ismail Ibrahim
For social housing tenants, evictions for arrears have other challenges. And, the consequences are even more dire.

Under the Housing Services Act, a tenant who owes arrears to social housing landlord in Ontario cannot be rehoused with any other social housing provider in Ontario until the tenant has either repaid the arrears or entered into a repayment agreement with their previous provider.

Even if a repayment plan has been made, the long waiting list for social housing means that households will likely not be rehoused in social housing for many years. As examples, the average wait time for social housing in Ottawa is five years (seven years for larger families), and average wait time in Durham, as of 2018, was 6.4 years for seniors, 8.8 years for families and 14.2 years for single applicants.

So, what happens to individuals with low incomes who are waiting for social housing? According to the 2016 audit by Ontario’s auditor general, a survey by a few service managers found that:

  • About one-fourth of households surveyed on one particular Service Manager’s waiting list paid about 40 per cent of their income on rent, which is in excess of the recommended 30 per cent;
  • About 52 per cent surveyed were rooming with family, friends or in other temporary housing arrangements with no security of tenure;
  • About 22 per cent of households surveyed could not make rent and utility payments and owed arrears to their landlords or utility companies; and
  • About five per cent of the surveyed were involved in eviction proceedings.

These individual human impacts also have an economic impact. Investment in social housing has been found to reduce costs in health care, other forms of social assistance and costs in the justice system. As an example, a 2015 report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis determined that an investment of $7.2 billion in Toronto Community Housing’s capital repair and revitalization program would produce the following benefits over a 20-year period:

  • $18.5 billion more in GDP contributions to Canada;
  • 220,000 more years of employment;
  • $3.8 billion reduction in health-care costs;
  • $6.8 billion less in social assistance costs; and
  • 15 per cent reduction in crime.

Solutions

As indicated above, both allowing the accumulation of rental arrears or having more evictions is going to be problematic. So, what are the possible solutions?

The ideal solution for both the tenant and the landlord would be some sort of rent assistance program for those who can demonstrate that they cannot pay their rent due to the COVID-19 crisis. There are some existing, albeit limited, resources to assist tenants, and there are some other options that may come to fruition.

Existing resources

In some regions there are resources available that may assist renters in need. As an example, in Toronto, there is the Toronto Rent Bank that provides no-interest loans to low-income renters facing evictions.

The Toronto Rent Bank, though, has its limitations. First, it is a loan, so it must be paid back — a  challenge that may be too difficult following the crisis as the Canadian economy is predicted to have the largest contraction since 1921. Second, the rent bank has a limit of paying only two months of arrears, which may be too short a period if this crisis and the associated economic fallout lasts many months. Finally, the rent bank is not available for those receiving social assistance and for social housing tenants.

Individuals receiving financial assistance through Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program in the city of Toronto may qualify for the Housing Stabilization Fund, which is intended to prevent homelessness and help obtain and retain housing.

Even without limitations on who is eligible for this funding, these existing resources are not geared to provide the level of assistance that may be required as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

This is part four of a five part series. Part one: Tenant-landlord tango: Implications of COVID-19 on residential rent arrears. Part two: Rent arrears during COVID-19: What landlords, tenants ought to know. Part three: Tenant-landlord tango: Evictions not good option in wake of COVID-19

Ismail Ibrahim is an associate at Robins Appleby LLP where he works on affordable housing projects in the real estate and corporate groups. He was previously general counsel at Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC). Prior to that, he was an engineer at a nuclear plant; he holds an engineering chemistry degree. He also has an MBA from University of Oxford and has played in the World Chess Olympiad.

Photo credit / doyota ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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