The Debts and Bills of Covid-19: Rent, Mortgages, Utilities and Loans

Joe Byrne, NDP PEI leader

Here we are on the first of the month. Rent is due in the midst of this crisis, utilities will follow. Some relief measures have been put in place but there is more that should be done.

The provincial government announcement suspending evictions for April and May is a good start. If housing is a right then it is important to recognize that when an individual, family or group is unable to pay; supports must be in place to provide for housing. Support in the amount of up to $250/household is available to renters in crisis due to Covid-19. Please visit the provincial website at: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/social-development-and-housing/covid-19-supports-renters-and-landlords to apply. At present it doesn’t seem that the application is live but it should be soon.

This is a time where flexibility, creativity and generosity must be the order of the day. There will be many tenants who will not be able to pay rent and landlords who require the rent to make their own payments. There is an order of priority – renters must have a decent, secure, safe and affordable place to live. This comes first.

We are encouraging both renters and landlords to have frank conversations about the economic stresses. Money will not appear magically in anyone’s hands to enable payments. To those landlords who can skip or suspend payments, please do so. To those that can’t – be patient, talk to your tenants, make affordable arrangements.

For tenants who can afford to make a partial payment; negotiate this with your landlord. Recognize that we are all in this together. Where negotiation is not working then the province must step in and assure the renters of their housing.

The same principles should apply to mortgages. Most home owners have paid their CMHC insurance and it is time to use this insurance to pay the interest on mortgages. By doing this,  when home owners skip a payment, their interest does not get added on and compounded for the life of the mortgage. The expression my mother used was ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’- meaning any two actions which are at cross purposes. Skipping the principal and adding the interest are those two actions.

The same rules must apply to utilities: Maritime Electric, BellAliant, Eastlink, Rogers, Telus, Irving Oil, KenMac , Superior Propane, municipal water, all vehicle and home insurance companies have the same responsibility – suspend service cut-offs or disconnection until we get back to work and there is money in people’s pockets. The Summerside Electric Utility is included in this group and separate because it deserves recognition for the $25/customer credit given for April.

A  final reflection on this question of rent and utilities are the banks and the finance companies. The overnight rate of the Bank of Canada is 0.25%. A quick check of major banks state that prime rate is 2.45%. There is no reason why any loan, mortgage, line of credit, credit card or any other financial instrument is being charged at more than that. Every bank, credit union and other finance company can unilaterally drop interest rates across their full spectrum to prime. This will not hurt them or significantly affect their bottom line; and will allow people to skip a payment without the fear of piling on more debt as we emerge out of COVID-19

Here on PEI, Joe has worked on numerous social programs in rural communities. He has done field work on issues faced by university and college students, has been Director of Youth Ministry, and has also coordinated pastoral planning for the diocese. He remains active in the Latin American Mission Program, and is President of the Cooper Institute, a grass-roots collective for community development. He also counts among his volunteer and community work Charlottetown Abbies soccer, church Youth and Music ministries, Voluntary Resource Council, Peace Vigil Group, Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, Canada World Youth, and Katimavik hosting. He keeps up his interaction with young people as a part-time instructor for the Abegweit Driving School. All of this, he does in addition to his work in the NDP. His vast array of church and community experiences have helped him cultivate his skills in communication, organization, and consensus building, and also brought him the joy of forming hundreds of friendships.

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