The province will offer help to renters who have seen their incomes plummet due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic, but this help will not come online in time for tenants struggling to make April’s rent.
In a media briefing on Monday evening, Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson announced a $1 million al assistance benefit. The program, which will not be implemented until May, is similar to an existing rent supplement program that currently provides a monthly stipend for over 1,100 low-income renters.
"It will assist Island households that are currently renting and have seen an unexpected loss of income due to the pandemic," Hudson said.
During the March 30 briefing, Hudson urged renters call a toll-free number, 1-877-368-5770, to apply for the rental assistance benefit. But calls to the line on Tuesday yielded a recorded message indicating the benefit would not be available before May 1.
Staff with Social Development and Housing said details of the program, including eligibility, would be posted online Tuesday, one day before the end of the month.
"Should have, could have a program been rolled out a bit earlier? Certainly it probably could have. But at this point, I think it's a very positive announcement," Hudson said.
Hudson pointed to other programs announced by his department, including a six-week moratorium on evictions for tenants in publicly-owned housing. This moratorium would be extended to June, Hudson said.
Hours earlier, the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) announced it would be suspending all hearings related to non-payment of rent or evictions indefinitely. The Commission, which oversees disputes involving landlords and tenants, had previously suspended hearings until April 6.
Hearings related to urgent matters, such as threats to safety of tenants and landlords will still be held via telephone or web link.
“The Rental Office is urging tenants who are unable to pay their rent to communicate with their landlords to try to reach an agreeable solution during this challenging time,” read the statement.
The statement said the stoppage is due to the public health emergency.
Attorney General, Bloyce Thompson, has also filed an application to the Supreme Court of P.E.I. for an emergency stoppage of enforcement of evictions.
Ordinarily, an order related to an eviction issued by IRAC would be executed by sheriff services.
The province’s application requests the stoppage of eviction order enforcements remain in place until the end of the current public health emergency, in part to protect sheriff services staff.
The appeal will be heard before the P.E.I. Supreme court on Wednesday.
Other provinces, including B.C., Ontario and Quebec have put in place temporary moratoriums on eviction proceedings due to public health concerns.
In a phone interview, Thompson said an appeal to the Supreme Court was required to stop eviction proceedings.
"In a perfect world, we would go to the legislature and change the [Rental of Residential Property Act] to make an amendment. But until we do that, this is our best option," Thompson said in an interview.
"We just don't want to see people out on the streets."
Thompson said there are no current eviction orders pending before sheriff services, but said his department believed some might come in the near future.
Thompson said Premier Dennis King has reached out to several landlords and has encouraged them to be lenient to tenants.
Also on Monday, Matthew MacKay, minister of economic growth and tourism, announced financial assistance for landlords of commercial tenants. The program, which will be administered through Finance P.E.I., will provide up to $50,000 for landlords who defer rent payments from commercial tenant for three months.
*A version of this story was originally posted on Monday evening. The story was updated on Tuesday as more details about the al assistance benefit became available.