Real Property activities: Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—April 14, 2021
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Real Property Services efforts in support of vulnerable populations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
People experiencing homelessness or part of a vulnerable population have an increased risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 due to overcrowded living conditions, inability to self-isolate, the lack of access to facilities to practice good hygiene and a higher incidence of transience.
Role of Public Services and Procurement Canada
Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is supporting the needs of vulnerable populations by leveraging its real property expertise and holdings to ensure access to facilities and accommodation for a range of eventualities. In April 2020, PSPC and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) created the Interdepartmental Committee on Lodging for Vulnerable Populations to implement a whole-of-government approach with the involvement of representatives from 14 departments.
PSPC is not funded to provide lodging for vulnerable populations. Therefore, our support involves sharing expertise, working with interjurisdictional partners and national associations, coordinating with funding departments, including the Treasury Board of Canada for real property exemptions, and providing ongoing support as urgencies arise to navigate the appropriate lodging and specialized services support channels.
As border restrictions change throughout the pandemic, PSPC is supporting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to secure hotel facilities across Canada. PSPC also provides advice and best practices to Health Canada, ESDC, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Privy Council Office (PCO) and our interjurisdictional partners related to housing needs for temporary foreign workers or asymptomatic isolation sites to ensure that the responses build on lessons learned throughout the pandemic and barriers within the industry.
PSPC has received 11 formal requests and at least 10 informal requests through a newly developed intake process to triage lodging requests and determine which federal partners are best positioned to support the community needs through space, funding and best practices support. PSPC addressed several of the lodging requests while remaining requests have been managed by ESDC through community support programs or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) rapid-housing initiative.
PSPC currently has 3 leases in Yellowknife and Montréal in place until September 30, 2021, at nominal value. The City of Montréal has a lease in place to use a facility located in the Guy-Favreau Complex, the non-profit organization Bon Courage has a lease for the former National Film Board of Canada building in Montréal and the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is using the Aspen Apartment complex located in Yellowknife (a 36-unit building). PSPC has also received pre-approvals to lease another vacant Crown-owned site in Yellowknife to be used as a potential warming shelter. In addition, PSPC has recently been asked by the City of Yellowknife to use 18 vacant housing units for a period of 1 year to house homeless populations displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently working with ESDC to seek the appropriate authorities. Lastly, a request from the Santé publique du Québec to use the Manège militaire’s rooms as a COVID-19 vaccination site is currently being addressed.
PSPC is not funded to provide lodging at the community level. Therefore, role clarity, triage and coordination of requests are critical and ongoing to ensure expectation management and to avoid duplication of response efforts.
PSPC will continue to support ad hoc and formal requests throughout the second wave and the vaccination period to help respond to evolving situations and emergencies. [Redacted]
Federal building management during COVID-19
A large proportion of the public service has transitioned to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government offices remain open to ensure the delivery of essential government functions and many clients’ preparations for eventual return to the workplace are underway, guided by regional public health agencies. However, with Canada in the third wave of the COVID-19 virus, there may be a heightened concern about how confirmed cases are being managed and communicated to Public Services and Procurement Canada building occupants.
Questions on employees returning to the workplace should be responded to by the President of the Treasury Board, as the employer.
- PSPC is committed to providing healthy and productive work environments—our facilities remain open, and preparations for re-occupancy continue so that when occupants come back to the office, they return to a healthy working environment
- Incident reporting and specialized disinfection protocols are in place for suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19
- National cleaning specifications have been augmented to cleaning and disinfection of high-touch points to twice daily, based upon guidance from Health Canada
- Regular flushing of building water systems is being completed for continued water potability
- Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) measures to increase outdoor air intake and maximize filtration have been implemented
- PSPC is supporting client requirements for hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and other protective equipment as required
- We are ensuring that PSPC’s actions align with global best practices in property management
If pressed on confirmed cases in PSPC buildings:
- clients are asked to report all suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a building to PSPC’s National Service Call Centre
- PSPC or its service provider will react quickly in mobilizing cleaning contractors for required disinfecting processes
- an appropriate disinfection plan is developed and may include disinfection of employee workspaces, elevator control panels and buttons, washrooms, and kitchen and lunch areas
- the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat tracks confirmed cases within the federal public service. As of March 31, 2021, it reported 3,537 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the federal public service
If pressed on notifying employees of confirmed cases of COVID-19:
- PSPC is committed to providing healthy and productive work environments and takes seriously the responsibility to notify employer organizations of confirmed cases of COVID-19
- reporting protocols are being followed with the National Service Call Centre being notified by the client organization so cleaning and disinfection can begin immediately
- as per standard practice, employer representatives within the building are informed who, in turn, initiate notification to their employees as per their responsibilities under the Canada Labour Code
- PSPC and its service providers work with the employer and other involved stakeholders to assist with the above protocols
Base building cleaning costs have remained relatively stable throughout the pandemic, seeing an increase of about 9%, despite augmented cleaning protocols. However, as the gradual return to the workplace progresses, base building cleaning costs are expected to rise. While there are different factors to take into consideration, it is estimated that an increase in cleaning costs will be realized when occupancy levels reach approximately 30% of total occupancy. We continue to engage service providers and landlords on these costs for planning purposes.
While reduced occupancies may suggest lower utility costs, the reality is that utility costs have remained stable when compared to pre-pandemic values. This is attributed to numerous variables including:
- buildings remaining operational and maintenance continuing on normal schedules
- water flushing being performed to reduce risk of stagnation and bacteria growth
- increased HVAC protocols to promote occupant wellness including increasing outdoor air intake, thus impacting energy consumption savings opportunities
- reduced occupancy translates into reduced electrical consumption for personal computers, but that also means that the building loses internal heat gains from occupants and equipment during the heating season, resulting in building systems needing to provide additional heating
PSPC endeavors to remain informed on local health restrictions that could impact our real property portfolio and the clients within. Heightened restrictions have recently been announced in 3 provinces to reduce community transmission of COVID-19: British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.
Since the declaration of the pandemic, PSPC assets have remained open so essential government functions can be delivered in a safe environment. This same direction will be applied during the jurisdictional restrictions mentioned above as well as any other jurisdictions where restrictive measures may be introduced in the future.
The department continues its engagement with central agencies, clients and bargaining agents to collaborate on guidance. PSPC will also continue to advance procedures to ensure healthy and productive work environments for the easing of restrictions and planning a safe return to the workplace as guidance evolves.
PSPC will continue to reinforce reporting protocols for suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases with service providers and clients to ensure a consistent national approach and understanding.
PSPC will continue to track building readiness measures nationwide and take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate building readiness protocols for instilling greater confidence and reducing uncertainties within our client community.
In addition, as part of the Minister’s supplementary mandate letter, she has been asked to, in consultation with public sector unions, work with the president of the Treasury Board and the minister of Digital Government to explore enhanced flexibility in working arrangements for federal public servants.
PSPC will continue to reinforce guidelines for non-essential lighting internally and with real property service providers.
Rent relief measures for commercial tenants in the Public Services and Procurement Canada portfolio
Public Services and Procurement Canada has put in place measures to alleviate financial pressure on its commercial tenants during a period of low-building occupancy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- PSPC is committed to providing its building occupants and employees with healthy and productive work environments
- On October 9, 2020, the government announced the new Canada-Revenue-Agency-administered Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) Program, which replaces the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) Program
- CERS provides simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021 for qualifying organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this program, the rent subsidy is provided directly to affected tenants while providing support to property owners
- PSPC reached out to all its tenants and is in the process of communicating with them again to indicate what additional relief measures may be available to their business to ensure their continued wellbeing and economic vitality
Given the health and safety measures put in place to contain COVID-19, buildings under PSPC’s management are largely empty. As a result, commercial tenants may have experienced reductions in their business volumes.
In line with guidance from the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) on rent relief to external tenants, PSPC took steps to allow tenants to defer their rent payments for a 6-month period effective April 1, 2020. This applied to businesses whose income had been affected by the COVID-19 containment measures. To date, rent deferrals were sought by 162 tenants (64% of tenants) for a total of $4.8 million for the 6-month period.
In addition, 106 tenants (58% of potentially eligible tenants) benefited from the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program 75% rent reduction for a total of $1.8 million. The CECRA Program terminated on September 30, 2020.
On October 9, 2020, the government announced the Canada-Revenue-Agency-administered Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy Program, which replaced the CECRA program and provides simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021 (as reconfirmed by the Prime Minister on March 3, 2021) for qualifying organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rent subsidy is provided directly to affected tenants while providing support to property owners.
The rent subsidy supports businesses, charities and non-profit organizations that have suffered a revenue drop by subsidizing a percentage of their expenses, on a sliding scale, up to a maximum of 65% of eligible expenses and top-up of up to 25% for organizations temporarily shut down by a mandatory public health order issued by a qualifying public health authority, in addition to the 65% subsidy.
In addition to leveraging the CECRA and CERS programs, PSPC will also be amending lease agreements on a temporary basis, as appropriate, to ensure that future rents reflect the economic realities of its tenants.
Lease amendments contemplated include calculating rent as a percentage of tenants’ gross revenues (such as rent becomes relative to their ability to generate revenues and their ability to pay) and mutual termination without penalty to relieve tenants of any future financial obligations should they believe their business model is no longer sustainable.
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