CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As a way to assist Calgarians who may be struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is offering the opportunity to defer utility bill payments.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi gave the details during a committee meeting at City Hall Thursday morning.
“That water, wastewater, drainage, and waste and recycling. To defer their bills for April, May and June. Defer all or a portion of their bills. That’s a fancy way of saying if you can’t pay your whole bill, you don’t have to pay your whole bill,” said Nenshi.
There will be no interest or penalties if you choose to defer payment, although Nenshi stressed this is only for those who need it and if you can still afford to pay the bills then you still should.
“But certainly we’re happy to put money in people’s pockets in terms of those utility bills right away.”
The option will become available with the April bill, and this is on top of the provincial government allowing Albertans to not pay utility bills coming from them.
It’s another in a long list of financial reliefs coming to Albertans, including income tax payments being delayed until June and the offer to receive a one-time check if you are in isolation.
Councillors also discussed other ways to help Calgarians during the situation, including an initiative spearheaded by Councillor Jeromy Farkas to use school buses full of supplies as mobile grocery stores.
Nenshi promised immediate support for homeless Calgarians as well, and there are discussions on how to use infrastructure money to refurbish affordable housing units so people can still live comfortably. In addition, there may be some plans put in place to introduce rent supplements so homeless Calgarians can be moved directly into housing.
Second announcement: Nenshi says they are concerned with the most vulnerable such as homeless Calgarians. They will take immediate action, a change is coming today. No firm details right now but Nenshi says that will come later today. Also more money for non profit groups.
— Tom Ross (@Tommy_Slick) March 19, 2020
“It’s hard to wash your hands when you don’t have access to a sink,” said Nenshi. “It’s extremely hard to physically isolate if you are sleeping in a shelter.”
Nenshi said the collaboration with other levels of government has been stellar through the crisis, noting that he has spoken with Premier Jason Kenney more often than with his own sister recently.
The issue of rent payments and evictions was raised by Councillor Druh Farrell, who asked if there are any plans to halt evictions as has been established in several jurisdictions in the United States.
Nenshi said that is not in the works, but as a landlord he cautioned other landlords against doing that or raising rent prices at a time like this.
“What are you doing? If you really did want to move forward on eviction on your tenants, where in the world are you going to find new tenants?”
City Manager David Duckworth stressed that essential services are still available and there’s no need for anyone to panic, but still you should only call 911 if you have an emergency and should only call 811 after doing an online assessment for COVID-19 symptoms.
However, he said we are in for the long haul, and it could take two to three years for the city to fully recover as we experience the combination of a public health crisis, economic downturn and sharply lower oil prices.
Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson again reiterated the need to practice social distancing, and said he isn’t having anybody over at his house while the situation continues. He said the dangers are shown by multiple Calgarians catching the virus at a church service, and others catching it at the same dinner party.
There are questions about what to do if you see someone violating the public health guidelines about distancing, and while the police cannot roam around arresting people hanging out in groups, Nenshi said the “moral authority” will have to prevail and there may be some more enforcement measures in the future.
“I will say that I heard of two pubs on Monday night that opened for St. Patrick’s Day parties,” said Nenshi. “And they were both closed by 8 p.m. because of the public backlash.”
But the city does not want everyone to become a total recluse, and with the weather getting a bit better as we approach the weekend, we should take advantage of it.
“Outside is not cancelled,” said Nenshi. “That 150 minutes a week as a minimum of physical exercise is even more important if you’re not getting your daily routine in. You can’t get ten thousand steps in if you’re at home.”