The federal government may have extended its commercial rent assistance program by a month, but businesses say there remains far too much uncertainty surrounding their future.
“We’re going to take it day by day,” said Erik Joyal, who owns several hospitality establishments in Toronto, including Ascari at King Street West and Portland Street, which reopened this week.
“We’re trying to develop other forms of revenue … We’re left with no other choice but to innovate to survive.”
The federal government announced Monday it is extending its Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program (CECRA), one of several aid packages to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the program, property owners can receive forgivable loans to cover 50 per cent of the rent for April, May and June — the loans are forgiven if the owner agrees to lower the rent by at least 75 per cent. The tenant business would pay the remaining 25 per cent. The program will now cover July as well.
Joyal said so far CECRA has helped with the rent at his downtown restaurant, but he points out that it’s next to impossible to earn enough revenue over the next month, with reduced customer capacity, to cover the rent and other big expenses in August and beyond.
Joyal, who is also the co-founder of SaveHospitalityCA, a coalition of mainly Toronto hospitality establishments, said it’s a situation that a lot of smaller businesses will find themselves in, but particularly restaurants.
“It’s a crazy amount of anxiety for people,” he said. “And the government waits until the eleventh hour” to extend CECRA.
Under Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan, restaurants and bars can now reopen, but for patio dining only, with restrictions in place to maintain physical distancing between patrons. Establishments offering personal services such as hair salons have also reopened.
It’s proven to be some good news for many businesses that have spent the better part of the past four months completely shut down.
According to a new survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, just over 52 per cent of small businesses in Ontario are now fully open, with 20 per cent reporting normal sales.
The CFIB said businesses in sectors with normal sales tend to be those that were never fully closed at the height of the pandemic, such as agriculture and some retail such as grocery stores.
“It’s some good news, the numbers were better than they were last week,” said Laura Jones, executive vice-president and chief strategic officer at the CFIB.
“But it’s good news within a picture that is still very, very worrying.”
The organization had previously asked the government to extend CECRA until at least September, with the possibility of a further extension.
But while CECRA has worked for some businesses, Jones points out it hasn’t helped every business that needs rental assistance, as the program requires the landlord to apply, and some landlords have chosen not to.
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She said the government needs to come up with a solution that puts rental assistance funds directly in the hands of the businesses.
“It’s critical to the economic recovery that we get some real rent relief in place for those who haven’t had any rent relief yet,” she said.