A closed store front boutique business called Francis Watson pleads for help displaying a sign in Toronto on Thursday, Apr. 16, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is expanding a loan program for small businesses suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and is working on a new support for companies having trouble paying rent. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau fleshes out details of rent relief agreement for small businesses

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that the federal government has reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement a new rent subsidy program to help businesses forced to shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program will lower rent by 75 per cent for small businesses that have been affected by the global pandemic.

The rent assistance program will provide non-repayable loans to commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of rent payments for April, May and June.

The loans will be forgiven if the property owner agrees to cut the rent by at least 75 per cent for those months and promises not to evict the tenant. The small business tenant must cover the remaining portion of the rent, which would be up to 25 per cent.

To qualify for the program, small business tenants must be paying less than $50,000 per month in rent and must have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 per cent drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues.

This assistance will also be available to non-profit and charitable organizations.

Trudeau said the federal government is doing everything in its power to support Canadians.

“This is an event that put us into a deep freeze, put us into hibernation as it were, and everyone had to stop and hold while we let this wave of COVID pass through,” Trudeau said.

“We know at the end of this people will need to travel for work, for pleasure. People will need to go to restaurants, people will need to become tourists again… That is our focus on trying to get through this moment of hibernation.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) welcomed the rent relief program but warned that it may be too complicated and too reliant on landlords to administer.

“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,” CFIB vice-president Laura Jones said in a statement from.

The CFIB also criticized the requirement that a qualifying business report a loss of 70 per cent of its revenues, saying that might disqualify some hard-hit businesses.

“We recognize that COVID-19 is hitting some people harder than others, some areas harder than others, and unfortunately this is something we are grappling with,” Trudeau said.

“We are trying to help as many people as possible.”

With files from CBC News

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