The Yukon government has rolled out a new program aimed at helping both renters and landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 Rent Assist program was announced on May 11.
Pauline Frost, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, said that both renters and landlords need help during the pandemic and that this program is designed to provide assistance to both.
Tenants who live in a non-subsidized rental and have lost 30 per cent or more of their income due to the pandemic can apply.
The program will be retroactive, aiming to cover 50 per cent of median market rental costs from April, May, as well as future months like June. Market rental cost was determined based on the government’s assessment of the Whitehorse rental market and the unit’s size.
A renter will be eligible for $415 for a bachelor apartment or a room, $500 for a one bedroom rental, $600 for a two-bedroom rental, and $800 for a three or more bedroom rental.
“I am very happy to make this money available for more Yukoners that (need) it the most,” Frost said.
The money will be given as a grant that will be paid directly to the landlord on the tenant’s behalf.
John Striecker, the minister of community services, said that the government started working on the program “right away” when the territory first responded to the pandemic. It took longer to develop due to talks with the Yukon Residential Landlord Association. He said there is a similar program in British Columbia that was out sooner but he feels the Yukon’s plan gets more money to renters and landlords.
The territory launched a program in March that prevented evictions for 90 days due to the pandemic.
The program could be extended if needed past June.
Spokesperson Matthew Cameron said homeowners have seen some relief since the government extended the 2020 property tax payment deadline and that the government will continue to help with mitigating the various impacts of the pandemic.
Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard is concerned that there was no consultation with opposition parties regarding this program and said the Yukon Party learned about it through media reports.
“It’s unfortunate that the government doesn’t understand how democracy should work,” Hassard said, adding he has several questions about this program.
He wonders what will happen to someone who lost employment but still managed to pay rent in April, asking if this meant the landlord would be paid twice or if there be an opportunity for the tenant to get the money.
Hassard also pointed out there is nothing for homeowners, asking why renters get help but homeowners have not received any breaks with mortgages.
He is concerned about Whitehorse’s median rent being the framework for the program, since the median could be different in other communities.
He said these are a few examples of what would have been brought up if the opposition was able to provide scrutiny.
“They (Liberals) just forge ahead with their father knows best approach,” Hassard said.
Kate White, the Yukon NDP leader, said this program was long overdue. She pointed out the NDP proposed a rental assistance program back in March.
“From our standpoint, it’s just taken too long,” White said.
She is worried that the government could take a while to extend the program if needed after June. She hopes the government is “on the ball” if that decision has to be made.
That said, she feels this news will be a relief to tenants and landlords. She said help to tenants “who are losing sleep” over paying rent is important.
She is concerned about the money being paid directly to the landlord and wonders if this means the tenant or the landlord is actually applying and what process is in place to make sure a double payment does not happen.
She adds that making the program retroactive is “the least they could do” to mitigate the delay in bring out this program.
As for people with mortgages, she is interested to see what the government may do to help this issue.
Information on the program is available on the government’s website.
Contact Gord Fortin at firstname.lastname@example.org