Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that the federal government has reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses which will lower rent by 75 per cent for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19.
“More help is on the way for our small businesses across the country. They are the backbone of our families, our communities, and our economy. That is why we will continue working closely with provinces and territories to make sure that Canadian businesses have the support they need during these difficult times,” said Trudeau.
The federal government gave the following details about CECRA:
- The program will provide forgivable loans to qualifying commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of three monthly rent payments that are payable by eligible small business tenants who are experiencing financial hardship during April, May, and June;
- The loans will be forgiven if the mortgaged property owner agrees to reduce the eligible small business tenants’ rent by at least 75 per cent for the three corresponding months under a rent forgiveness agreement, which will include a term not to evict the tenant while the agreement is in place. The small business tenant would cover the remainder, up to 25 per cent of the rent; and
- Impacted small business tenants are businesses paying less than $50,000 per month in rent and who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 per cent drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues. This support will also be available to non-profit and charitable organizations.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will administer and deliver the CECRA, a collaboration between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments, which are responsible for property owner-tenant relationships.
Provinces and territories have agreed to cost share total costs and facilitate implementation of the program. They will cost share up to 25 per cent of costs, subject to terms of agreements with the federal government. It is expected that CECRA will be operational by mid-May, with commercial property owners lowering the rents of their small business tenant’s payable for the months of April and May, retroactively, and for June.
“Small businesses are an integral part of our economy and are vital for families and communities across the country. Many businesses are facing economic hardship and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank and commend the many property owners who have already taken action to help their tenants during this crisis. Today’s program will provide forgivable loans to commercial property owners who in turn will lower the rent of tenants to keep them prepared to bounce back when this crisis subsides,” said Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance.
“RCC had been advocating for this relief program for quite some time and was part and parcel of the discussions with senior officials in Ottawa to ensure it saw the light of day,” she said. “We continue to also advocate for Part II of this program to ensure that mid and large retailers who have been severely affected by this crisis and who are not considered essential retail services receive rent support as well. Our small, mid and large retailers are integral to the health and wellbeing of the retail ecosystem in this country and we will continue to work hard to represent them.”
David Lefebvre, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Federal and Quebec, said the organization commends the federal and provincial governments for stepping up and providing a solution to help restaurants with their rent obligations during these extraordinarily difficult times.
“A lot of what is being offered seems to respond to our recommendations. We are glad this has now been brought to the table so that we can move forward from here and build on any areas where there might still be gaps,” said Lefebvre.
Laura Jones, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the organization is pleased to see the federal government move forward with the provinces to implement its Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance. Several provisions that CFIB was looking for were included in today’s announcement: the program is retroactive to April and will provide rent forgiveness rather than just loans, she added.
“However, CFIB also has some concerns including that the program may be too complicated and too reliant on landlords to administer. In particular, as landlords do not have to participate and will be expected to accept some losses under the program, they may choose to ignore it, even if their tenants badly need it. Another concern is that the all-or-nothing threshold of a 70 per cent revenue reduction will leave many hard-hit businesses without the relief they need,” said Jones.
“We appreciate the enormous challenge in designing support programs and getting them out quickly. As they have done with other big programs, our hope is that governments will be open to suggestions for improvement as it becomes apparent in real time what works and what doesn’t. We have a survey going out tonight to small businesses across the country to get more reaction.
“CFIB urges landlords to accept the program and work with their tenants in good standing to ensure they can access the help they need. Hopefully this program will help many of the businesses that have been hardest hit, particularly those ordered to shut down entirely. This is welcome news but many business owners with dramatic revenue losses will not qualify for the program. More help from provincial governments to cover those falling through the eligibility cracks of federal programs is needed to get through this. The limitations of these programs underscore the need to get businesses back in business as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
According to a recent CFIB survey:
- More than 40 per cent of small businesses have seen a revenue drop of 70 per cent or more and should be eligible for the new program;
More than 50 per cent of small businesses are not able to pay rent without support, and this number is as high as 75 per cent for the hospitality sector;
54 per cent trust their landlord to be reasonable, 33 per cent do not; and
- 75 per cent believe the cost of commercial rent that cannot be paid due to COVID-19 revenue losses should be shared between governments, landlords and tenants, with 19 per cent disagreeing.
Michael Kehoe, Lead Ambassador in Canada for the New-York based International Council of Shopping Centres, said the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance for small businesses is an important component within the consumer real estate transactional chain that stakeholders have been waiting for.
“This will go a long way to ensure that there are retail and restaurant environments to return to when shopping and dining venues reopen. The program along with other measures will serve as a bridge that is needed to make the landlord and tenant relationship work effectively in these troubling times. I commend both levels of government for their proactive approach to the problem that affects ordinary Canadians in every jurisdiction,” said Kehoe, a veteran of more than 40 years in the industry and broker/owner of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary.
Grace Yan, a commercial real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Mountain Central in Calgary, said the federal government move is a step in the right direction, but time is running out and the process is way too slow.
“The relief offered has too many strings attached and businesses must go through a qualification process which is complicated and convoluted. Over 50 per cent of businesses will not be able to reopen – it has taken far too long for the government to implement relief,” she said.
“The process needs to be fast tracked with no strings attached, The funding needs to be quick and in the hands of businesses immediately. So far implementation and obtaining details has been weeks and businesses do not have that much time. As fast as businesses were mandated to shut then relief should have been available just as fast. We need Prime Minister Trudeau to disclose a proper organized plan for businesses to reopen safely and a proper relief structure that will enable businesses to survive. Support for businesses must be from all levels of government as without the businesses there will be no jobs for people to go back to.”
Benjamin Shinewald, President and Chief Executive Officer of BOMA Canada (Building Owners and Managers Association) with about 3,500 members spread across 11 regional chapters, said the vast majority of Canada’s economic activity occurs within BOMA Canada’s member buildings.
“Canada’s economic recovery and future prosperity depends in large part on all levels of government recognizing the fundamental need to support the commercial real estate industry and the tenants we house,” he said. “We are therefore encouraged that the federal government is recognizing the fundamental need to support our sector, though many details in today’s announcement have yet to be released.
“BOMA Canada is therefore very anxious to learn more about this program including how it interacts with other government support programs. It seems encouraging to know that some measure of relief is coming, but without more detail, we cannot say much more.”