Manitoba's plan to postpone evictions and freeze rent increases during the COVID-19 pandemic does little to help renters who have lost jobs or had pay cut because of the coronavirus pandemic, anti-poverty activists say.
"The moratorium on rent eviction hearings does not materially improve conditions for renters impacted by COVID-19," said Molly McCracken, Manitoba director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
However, the measures taking effect April 1 are intended to reduce the financial uncertainty and stress for many Manitoba renters, Premier Brian Pallister said during a teleconference Tuesday.
"For them, it’s just one less worry to carry," Pallister said, adding it's an assurance to tenants they're not going to be out on the street.
Any rent hikes slated for April 1 and after are temporarily off the table, so people who have lost jobs or have reduced income due to health issues can more easily make ends meet, officials said.
Non-urgent eviction hearings for issues such as unpaid rent are postponed until at least May 31; urgent issues — such as illegal tenant activity — will continue to be heard.
"We’re not announcing rent forgiveness today," said Pallister. "What we’re announcing… is just the fact that we’re not going to allow rents to increase during this time. And also only the major and most important hearings will be held going forward."
Statistics Canada data show 42 per cent of Manitoba renters (some 40,500) do not have one-month’s savings, McCracken said. That leaves thousands having to choose between paying rent and buying food, she said.
Renters who were already surviving paycheque-to-paycheque face even harder times down the road, predicted Michael Barkman, chairman of Make Poverty History Manitoba coalition.
"Tuesday's announcement doesn't include supports for renters, particularly those facing layoffs or loss of income due to COVID-19, to make sure they're not stuck with a huge debt once the pandemic is over," Barkman said.
The federal COVID-19 Employment Insurance-related programs could take several months to flow, and people have to file their 2019 taxes to get access to the GST credit and Canada Child Benefit top-ups — both not expected until May, said McCracken.
She urged the provincial government to take leadership, suggesting Manitoba could use its rainy day fund to flow more money through the Rent Assist program to support those who need it.