A federal rent-supplement program first promised by the Liberal government in 2017 finally appears set to roll out in B.C.
The program will provide $517-million to about 25,000 households in B.C. over the next 10 years, Ahmed Hussen, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announced Monday, calling the new housing fund a “game-changer” for renters.
But the Canada Housing Benefit, which is targeted to disadvantaged people such as those living in homeless shelters, fleeing domestic violence or coming out of foster care, is likely to be distributed only to about 3,000 B.C. households in the first year because of the way the rollout money has been set up.
As well, it’s nowhere near the total amount housing-policy experts have recommended in the past.
In spite of that, housing advocates say it is a solid new addition to the country’s and B.C.’s system for housing supports.
“It won’t solve everything but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Jill Atkey, chief executive officer of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. “It should make transitions from shelters to housing easier.”
It will be available to those who aren’t eligible for rent assistance through the province’s two existing supplement programs: the SAFER program for seniors; and the rental-assistance program that is only for families with children under 18 at home, where a parent is employed and making an income in a defined range.
Ms. Atkey said she believes this new supplement program is here to stay.
“Once it’s up and running, it will be tough for any government to start cutting it back.”
The new rent-supplement program is part of Ottawa’s much-promoted $70-billion, 10-year National Housing Strategy.
In the first year of the B.C. portion of the Canada Housing Benefit, the money agreed to by the province and federal government, in an addendum signed in August, 2019, was set to be $11-million from each of them. The amount is supposed to increase by the end of the decade to $58.7-milion each.
The program, which started running earlier this fiscal year, is providing up to $491 a month for singles and $650 for families. People can’t apply directly. They are either recommended for the program by a non-profit housing group or chosen from those who have already applied for subsidized housing through the BC Housing website.
Ottawa-based housing consultant Steve Pomeroy, who gave input into the program’s design, said he thinks the program provides an important piece of the housing solution for Canada because it will help a lot of people who already have housing but at costs that are too high for them.
However, he said his original recommendation had been for a much greater financial commitment of $3.5-billion a year for all of Canada, not the $4-billion total that the provinces and federal government have committed for all the next 10 years.
Because of the limited amount of money promised, it’s being tightly targeted to select groups, he said.
A study by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association in 2017 showed there were 117,000 households in the province that already had housing that was the right size and in good condition, but was costing more than 30 per cent of their income – considered the cut-off for affordable housing.
Mr. Pomeroy said providing a supplement to those kinds of households is much cheaper than only building new housing, although that effort is also needed.
“If you want to seriously reduce housing need, building alone doesn’t make sense. It’s too expensive.”
B.C.’s landlord organization is optimistic about the news.
“Assistance of this nature, to the broader rental housing universe, is always welcomed,” LandlordBC CEO David Hutniak said. “Certainly we look forward to some of these monies being available to support renters in the private market.”
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