By Steve Hubrecht

The federal government introduced its new rent-assistance program earlier this fall, and the revamped program is being greeted with cautious optimism by local officials.

At the end of September, the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program that had been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began stopped taking new applicants, and not long after the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) — which offers support for both businesses and individuals to help with rent payments during the pandemic — was launched in its stead. The old program was not used as much as expected. It came under fire from critics who charged the small uptake because it was building landlords rather than tenant business owners that needed to apply for the program, and because of what critics called an excessive amount of administrative red tape.

The new program, attempting to address some of these concerns, can be applied directly by business owners and covers up to 65 per cent of rent (or commercial mortgage interest) depending on how much revenue a business has lost since the pandemic began.

“We welcome the changes made in the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy in that it now allows those who are eligible to access this support directly. With the seasonality of our region, it is great to see that this program will be in place until at least June 2021,” said Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Pete Bourke. “However, our request to government remains, that these programs don’t place excessive administrative burden on our small and medium enterprises (SMEs) within the application process and with auditing. Those businesses who need these supports, need them now. So we ask both the provincial and federal governments to be mindful of this when designing such programs.”

“I think it’s a good start. We don’t want to see business failure. It’s not good for the community to have businesses failing,” said Invermere mayor Al Miller. “This isn’t an every day situation, so if there is some assistance from upper levels of government to help out, that’s a good thing. I like this new program better because the landlord doesn’t have to apply, the businesses can apply for it themselves. Hopefully, it will keep some businesses that have had to close down afloat until they can open their doors again.”