On Monday, June 1, rent will be due for the third time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario. For many, the day will come, rent will be paid, and life will go on. But for those who are out of work or have lost other sources of income as a result of the outbreak, they may not be able to pay their rent.
There is a silver lining for tenants: the province has implemented a suspension of evictions due to the pandemic. However, many Torontonians will still find themselves in a position in which they can't afford their rent, particularly those living in low-income households.
To ensure these residents aren't at risk of being displaced from their homes, the City funds a lesser-known rent assistance program for low-income households facing eviction due to short-term financial difficulties.
When speaking with Toronto Storeys, Nilgun Erkoc, Manager Housing Stability Services for the City of Toronto, acknowledged that while the program has been in operation since 1998, not a lot of people know about it.
In a phone interview, Erkoc said the City wants more residents to know that the Toronto Rent Bank Program exists, especially in the light of the ongoing pandemic that continues to cause financial burdens for residents.
"We know paying rent is a particular concern during the pandemic, so we want to make sure people, particularly those in households that are low-income, are aware that this assistance is available and that they aren't on the cusp of homelessness," said Erkoc.
Erkoc, who works for the City's shelter division, explained the program is a joint initiative between Neighbourhood Information Post (NIP) and various partner agencies including, Albion Neighbourhood Services, COSTI North York Housing Help, East York Housing Help, The Housing Help Centre, The Neighbourhood Organization, and Unison Health and Community Services.
While the rent bank has been ongoing for years, Erkoc said that due to the pandemic there have been some enhancements made to the program.
Pre-COVID, there was an annual base budget for $1.4 million dollars in the rent bank program. However, in response to the pandemic, the City made a $2 million dollar investment, bringing the 2020 budget to $3.4 million.
"Currently, there’s an increasing need for the rent bank and we wanted to make some incremental updates to the program and some financial advancements to ensure enough people can receive the loans," said Erkoc.
In April, Erkoc said the rent bank processed 90 loan applications, which was the highest spike of applicants since 2015. "There has been a slight decrease in applications in May," Erkoc explained, adding that this is most likely because the federal government continued to release CERB payments.
"That said, we do expect inquirers and applications to the rent bank to continue to rise during the pandemic. As we anticipate households will continue to experience financial hardships as a result of the pandemic."
In order to be eligible, a resident must live in Toronto with legal status in Canada; pay market rent for a rental unit covered by the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA); fall within the low-income household eligibility requirement; are not currently in receipt of social assistance such as Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP); and can satisfy other Toronto Rent Bank Program requirements, as required.
Erkoc said in anticipation of the increase of call volumes during COVID, there is a new number (416-397-rent) that interested residents can call to complete a pre-screening application. When residents call, they will reach the pre-screening call centre and then they will be forwarded to intake workers to complete a full application.
Erkoc explained that a rental arrears loan prior to the pandemic was $3,500, and now eligible households can receive an interest-free loan of up to $4,000. Approved households can have their payments deferred for up to 12 months, and the repayments are very flexible and as low as $25 a month, said Erkoc.
"Our staff work closely with the approved households to help assist them to repay their loan," said Erkoc, adding that the loan program isn't meant to be an additional burden on the household.
"The loan repayments are flexible because we don’t want to put a household into further financial hardship," said Erkoc.