Senait Negash lives with her three kids in an apartment in Winnipeg’s St. Vital neighbourhood — but that could change once the provincial government’s ban on non-urgent evictions and rent increases ends next week.
Since losing her job at the start of the pandemic, Negash has relied on the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency response benefit to pay her rent. Now, that benefit has come to an end, and she doesn’t know if she qualifies for other supports.
On top of that, her rent is going up.
“I feel really frustrated and I don’t know what I will do, because I have three boys and I’m a single mom and I don’t have any income,” said Negash.
She is one of potentially thousands of Manitobans who could find themselves forced out of their homes in the coming months.
At the beginning of the pandemic in March, the province postponed all non-urgent evictions, froze rent increases, and banned penalties for late rent payments. In June, those protections were extended to Sept. 30, but they were not included when the province announced earlier this month that it was renewing other emergency measures.
Negash, an Eritrean immigrant who worked as an interpreter for the Immigrant Centre, still hasn’t been called back to work. She doesn’t know yet if she’ll qualify for employment insurance or any other benefit.
Now, her landlord, SAM Management, is increasing her rent from $448 to $500 starting Oct. 1.
“That’s going to be, for me, very stressful,” she said. “I can’t say the words even, thinking … what I’m supposed to do.”
She doesn’t have any family to stay with, and worries her family could be forced to stay in a shelter.
“That’s going to be the hardest part for me now,” she said.
Extend eviction ban: advocates
Between 5,456 and 7,882 Manitoba tenants are in arrears and cannot or could not pay their rent during the pandemic, according to a Sept. 17 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Once the Residential Tenancies Branch resumes holding eviction hearings next month, housing advocates in Winnipeg fear the number of people forced into precarious housing or homelessness could spike over the fall and winter.
“This is not a timely thing, to be lifting this moratorium,” said Lucille Bruce, chief executive officer of the advocacy organization End Homelessness Winnipeg.
As daily COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate in the city, Bruce worries an increase in the number of families forced into shelters or overcrowded housing could lead to greater risk of transmission.
“Housing is health care,” said Bruce.
A letter written by the North End Community Renewal Corporation and delivered to Families Minister Heather Stefanson on Friday calls for the extension of tenant protections.
“Many tenants are in dangerous and vulnerable circumstances right now,” says the letter, signed by more than three dozen community organizations, institutions and individuals from around the province.
It also says landlords need supports to avoid evictions.
It calls for a working group made up of housing support experts, landlords and government to come up with a plan to allow tenants to pay outstanding back rent, increase supports through Rent Assist, and eventually work toward lifting the moratorium.
When a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they apply for an order of possession, and the Residential Tenancies Branch schedules a hearing to consider the request.
Before non-urgent eviction hearings were suspended in March, there were 143 hearings for non-payment of rent scheduled or waiting to be scheduled, according to the province.
Of those, 28 have been scheduled to be heard when hearings resume Oct. 1 and 35 were withdrawn. The rest are awaiting resolution, either through a scheduled hearing or mediation.
Strain on services
Pushing more families into homelessness could increase strain on public services provided by hospitals, police and paramedics, and lead to more apprehensions by Child and Family Services, said Dawn Sands, executive director of North End Community Renewal Corporation.
“It is dangerous and it’s tragic,” she said. “We’re talking about moving people into homelessness. We’re talking about … the potential for ripping families apart.”
Exactly how many tenants could find themselves without adequate housing in the coming months remains to be seen.
“We know it’s going to have a huge impact, but we don’t have numbers,” said Bruce. “There’s too many uncertainties right now.”
That leaves tenants like Negash hoping the government will step in to keep people from losing their homes until the pandemic is under control.
“As a newcomer here in Canada, [I was] struggling to find a job, and then [I] got the job and then I try to improve myself and the future for my kids,” said Negash.
Having already lost her job, she fears what would happen to her family if she also loses her home.
“Me and my kids [are] gonna [have] … the hardest life.”
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