Commercial landlords can begin applying for a government rent relief program on Monday, but struggling businesses say it will benefit few of them.

The Canada emergency commercial rent assistance (CECRA) program aims to reduce the rent owed by small business tenants by 75 per cent for April, May and June.

Applications are staggered depending on the province where the property owner is located and the number of tenants, beginning Monday with those in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, with up to 10 tenants who are eligible for the program.

The rent relief plan, funded jointly with the provinces, provides non-repayable loans to commercial property owners to cover 50 per cent of the monthly cost.

The loans will be forgiven if the property owner agrees to cut the rent by at least 75 per cent for those months and promises not to evict the tenant. The small business tenant must cover the remaining portion of the rent, which would be up to 25 per cent.

To qualify, small business tenants must pay less than $50,000 a month in rent. They also must have experienced a revenue decline of at least 70 per cent from pre-COVID-19 levels or they must have been forced to close down because of pandemic restrictions. Non-profit and charitable organizations are also eligible.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says many small businesses won’t be able to make June rent without more assistance. Through a survey of its members, the organization found that most commercial tenants don’t think they will qualify and don’t think their landlord will participate.

With many fearing eviction, they’re calling on the government to provide direct access to the government portion of the program.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce announced Monday it is launching a small business relief fund supported by software company Salesforce. It will give 62 small businesses $10,000 grants to pay salaries, buy personal protective equipment, replenish materials or adapt business models to deal with COVID-19.

Applicants that best demonstrate how the funds will help the business, their employees and their communities with economic recovery efforts will get the funding.

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