The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) calls on the Ontario Government to immediately cancel rent payments for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The emerging health and economic crises are compounding the already dire housing emergency in Ontario. It is long overdue that the right to housing was recognized by the actions of governments. The Communist Party stands in solidarity with tenants and tenants’ rights organizations calling to cancel rents and organizing rent strikes on April 1st and beyond.

The one million Canadians who applied for Employment Insurance (EI) last week and the millions of others who have seen reduced hours and incomes due to the escalating crisis are either unable to pay April’s rent, or are having to choose between paying landlords and keeping small sums for food and other emergency uses. A deferment of rents will only mean that massive and unpayable housing bills will become due in a few months’ time. The burden of the crisis cannot be put on the shoulders of working people with the least ability to pay.

The Ford government’s ban on evictions does not go far enough as Ontarians face these stark choices without any financial relief for tenants. While the Federal government and the big banks have announced inadequate mortgage deferrals that will ensure bank profits, there have been no proposals at all for tenants. Federal financial supports are still weeks away and won’t help those paying current extortionist rents. Ontario rental rates are the highest in Canada, while Toronto has the highest rent of any city at more than $2,300 for an average one-bedroom.

Ontario has seen a sharp rise in homelessness throughout the last decade. Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in shelter residents which threaten a health disaster of outbreaks inside cities’ shelter systems. These shelters have been chronically overcrowded for years and have been pushed further past the breaking point due to the pandemic. Indoor public spaces have been shuttered for health reasons and homeless people have even fewer supports than usual. It has never been as clear that housing is a health issue.

The housing emergency did not begin with the current crisis. It has been steadily escalating for years thanks to capitalism’s reliance on the real estate bubble, the unbridled greed of developers and landlords, and government collusion.

In January, the city of Ottawa declared a “housing emergency”. Ottawa’s waitlist for affordable housing has grown to 12,000 people, an increase of 14.8 per cent since 2017. The housing emergency is Ontario-wide. In Toronto, more than 102,000 households were on the active wait list for subsidized housing in 2019. According to this year’s Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association’s study, 42 per cent of renters spendmore than 30 per cent of their monthly income on rent and utilities; and 21 per cent spend more than 50 per cent. Overcrowding is also a growing issue with 20 per cent of rental households in Brampton living in overcrowded conditions. The housing crisis is a stark example of how an extremely profitable industry can totally fail in meeting the needs of working people.

The Ford government has implemented regressive reforms that will make living standards and conditions worse for millions in the province. After promising no changes to rent control during the election, the government then brought in legislation which ends rent control for all new rental units as part of its “Housing Supply Action Plan”. The sky’s the limit for rent increases on these units, and it will contribute to raising rents across the board. Ford’s continued commitment to the profiteers of the housing crisis is evident in the fact that condo construction continues in Ontario as “an essential service” during the pandemic.

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) continues to demand a comprehensive provincial social housing program that treats housing as a public utility and delivers it according to need. Developing and implementing an emergency plan to build 200,000 new, publicly owned, social housing units as well as upgrading and retrofitting existing units would be a real start to addressing the housing crisis.

We need legislation that will close rent control loopholes (such as “renovictions” and the lack of control on new units) and bring in rent rollbacks for all renters in Ontario so that no one is compelled to pay more than 20% of household income for rent. Furthermore, we need get rid of “vacancy decontrol”, which allows landlords to massively increasing rents when a tenant moves out. Landlords are already speculating that after the crisis ends there will be a large turnover of tenants due to job losses and that they will be able to raise rents dramatically.

We demand guaranteed funding for sufficient and safe emergency shelters to meet the needs of the more than 12,000 people who are homeless each night. Women’s shelters need to be expanded immediately as domestic violence becomes more dangerous as families are forced to remain under the same roof and since economic crises lead to more violence.

Action must be taken now to save lives during the pandemic. Most immediately, rent payments need to be canceled for the duration of the crisis. Many tenants cannot afford to pay now and many more will be unable to pay in May. Safe housing must be immediately found or requisitioned for the homeless. The province has expropriation powers and there is enough housing in the province, whether in hotels or in apartments owned by airbnb landlords and owners of speculation properties.

Housing is a right and not a commodity for the few to own and use to extract profits from the many.