Over the past few weeks, through my role as a board member at the Broadview Danforth BIA, we have been working closely with our local councillor Paula Fletcher, her colleagues at city hall and the 84 BIA's across Toronto to launch the Don't Turn OUT The Lights Campaign, in support of small businesses who are struggling due to COVID-19.
Small businesses play a vital role in supporting our economy and shaping the neighbourhoods we live in and will play a vital role in rebuilding our amazing city and bringing back community “spirit” and togetherness when this pandemic is over. However, due to COID-19, many small businesses are fearful they may be turning off their lights for good.
On April 1st rent was due for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic and government-imposed shutdown began. With businesses closed and no revenue coming in, small businesses – both tenants and landlords – struggled to cover their expenses and many are worried about what will happen in May, June and beyond. Without revenue soon, they could lose everything.
According to a recent report by The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), if they see a 50% drop in sales, 25% of small businesses couldn’t survive past a month and 80% couldn’t survive past 6 months. Well… we are going into week 4 and many of these small businesses are already seeing 70-100% drop in sales. Imagine what our neighbourhoods will look like in 3, 6, 12 months if small businesses start to shut down for good.
Unless government steps up and provides real rent relief to stabilize small businesses, one in four small businesses in Toronto will go bankrupt. Toronto BIA's are asking government to support small businesses by:
- Putting an immediate freeze on lockouts. The provincial government has done this with residential tenants, we’re asking for the same rules to apply to small businesses. Right now, after 48 hours of nonpayment landlords could seize assets, after 5 days they can sell assets and after 16 days they can change the locks and terminate a lease without notice.
- Create a rent relief fund immediately for tenants & landlords. Mortgage deferrals may not apply to commercial properties and the additional programs announced by the federal government are weeks if not months away. Small businesses just don’t have that long.
We’re deeply appreciative of the government programs put in place so far, but without revenue and rent relief, small businesses will be unable to pay rent and other expenses needed to stay open, defeating the purpose of these programs. We’re also hearing that many of these programs won't help the small businesses on our local main streets. The 75% wage subsidy is great, but only for businesses open; $40K loan program nice, but many small mom and pop shops do not meet the $50K payroll requirement; and, at the end of the day, deferrals and loans are just more debt that without revenue for a few months will drown some of these small businesses.
Landlords are often criticized as being rich and greedy. Well, that isn’t the case. It’s important to appreciate that most of the main street landlords are small businesses themselves who will also struggle to cover mortgages, utilities and taxes (of which commercial taxes are 2.5 times residential rates). While many of the landlords are sympathetic to their tenants and are trying to work with them, they are equally vulnerable at losing their buildings if they don’t have rent paying tenants. No small business owner, be they a tenant or a landlord, should have to choose between keeping the lights on or feeding their families.
We’re asking the government to provide the desperately needed rent relief in order to stabilize small businesses, so they don’t have to turn out the lights for good.