In My Opinion: Small businesses are at the heart of our neighbourhoods and they need to be protected

In her In My Opinion column, Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher writes about the importance of protecting the small businesses that make our neighbourhoods special.

By PAULA FLETCHER

COUNCILLOR, WARD 14 TORONTO-DANFORTH

Thank you all for your tremendous efforts to keep you and your family and our communities safe during the pandemic.

It is an unprecedented time that has brought out the best in our communities – from staying home to keeping safe space when we go out, to sewing masks, to dropping off groceries and supplies, to keeping in touch with seniors and to banging pots and pans each night at 7:30 p.m. Let’s salute all of our heroes – from our front line health care workers to those who keep us safe and fed every day. You make us all so proud.

We wonder what it will be like and look like when the restrictions are lifted and we go back to a ‘new normal’.

Vibrant retail main streets – like the Danforth and Queen Street – are at the heart of our safe, walkable and prosperous neighbourhoods and an important part of our “normal”.

These local restaurants and shops are woven into our lives like old friends.

Since the lockdown began I have been working closely with businesses who have been hardest hit by the restrictions related to COVID-19.

It remains a tough time for them. Doors closed, no income and still rent to pay.

An April survey developed by the Broadview Danforth BIA was answered by 561 businesses and 137 landlords across Toronto.

It revealed that 50 per cent of tenants had trouble paying their April rent.

As well 75 per cent of tenants and 55 per cent of landlords said that rent relief was the only truly effective way to save main street businesses.

The new Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) was just announced. While well intentioned it is not effective in staving off the collapse of our main streets.

Currently, it is left entirely up to landlords to apply and administer the program. It needs to be urgently fixed so it can become an important part of saving Main Street.

Main street businesses have said that on top of rent relief, they need a temporary ban on commercial evictions to give them some breathing space and to encourage their landlords to participate in the CECRA program.

Our neighbour, New York State, implemented such a ban early in this health crisis.

Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns and I have written a letter to Premier Doug Ford asking for an immediate moratorium on commercial evictions and stronger supports for small businesses. In April, at its first virtual meeting ever, City Council made a similar request.

If like me, you love strolling on our main streets for ice cream, sitting on a patio for a drink and a meal, grabbing that coffee and a pastry, picking up your paint, buying that birthday present or browsing in a bookshop then you know how important it is to our health and our neighbourhoods for small business to keep the lights on.


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