Grits ex­plore hous­ing ben­e­fit

Sources say mea­sure would be in­tended to help low-in­come renters and the home­less

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NATIONAL NEWS - Jor­dan Press

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral govern­ment is look­ing at cre­at­ing a new ben­e­fit to help low-in­come Cana­di­ans who strug­gle to pay the rent each month, but is be­ing warned that the mea­sure isn’t a so­lu­tion to the coun­try’s hous­ing crunch.

Mul­ti­ple sources with knowl­edge of talks say the govern­ment has qui­etly been ex­plor­ing how to es­tab­lish a new hous­ing sup­ple­ment pro­gram that would link ben­e­fits to in­di­vid­u­als, rather than hous­ing units — a de­par­ture from how such sup­ple­ments have typ­i­cally worked.

Gen­er­ally, hous­ing ben­e­fits are pro­vided to renters who need help pay­ing the bills, but are usu­ally tied to an apart­ment through rent­geared-to-in­come plans or rent sup­ple­ments.

should a renter move to a new unit, the ben­e­fit or sup­ple­ment doesn’t fol­low.

That cre­ates prob­lems — for women and chil­dren flee­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence who need hous­ing quickly, for in­stance, or home­less peo­ple on wait­ing lists who need help ad­dress­ing is­sues such as men­tal ill­ness or ad­dic­tion.

One fed­eral source said dis­cus­sions have re­volved around how such a sup­ple­ment could be de­liv­ered, be it through ex­ist­ing pro­vin­cial or municipal pro­grams, or through the tax sys­tem. The na­tional hous­ing Col­lab­o­ra­tive, an um­brella group of hous­ing and home­less­ness or­ga­ni­za­tions, rec­om­mended the govern­ment use the tax sys­tem to re­move the need for a lengthy ap­pli­ca­tion process.

although the lib­er­als ap­pear re­cep­tive to the idea, the sources — speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­close de­tails — say no de­ci­sion has been made on whether to in­clude the mea­sure in the bud­get.

a spokes­woman for Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau said she wouldn’t spec­u­late on what will be in the bud­get this year.

The lib­er­als first bud­get set aside $2.3 bil­lion over two years to build new af­ford­able hous­ing units, as well as re­fur­bish ex­ist­ing ones.

Cities and ad­vo­cates wel­comed the spend­ing, but said it would take time for the help to reach some 1.6 mil­lion house­holds in “core hous­ing need” — those who spend more than one-third of their be­fore-tax in­come on hous­ing that may be sub­stan­dard or doesn’t meet their needs. re­search from the uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary has found that the coun­try’s low­est in­come earn­ers can spend up to 80 per cent of their in­come on hous­ing.

in its pre-bud­get sub­mis­sion this year, the Fed­er­a­tion of Canadian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties called for a “por­ta­ble” rent sup­ple­ment to help those house­holds and serve as a bridge un­til new af­ford­able hous­ing units can come on­line.

The ben­e­fit, if adopted, could also help the ap­prox­i­mately 300,000 house­holds who are ex­pected to lose fed­eral hous­ing sub­si­dies as fund­ing agree­ments with so­cial hous­ing providers ex­pire over the next decade.

FCM pres­i­dent Clark somerville said the sup­ple­ment should be seen as one tool to com­bat home­less­ness. he said the lib­er­als still need to put money into build­ing hous­ing and pro­tect­ing ex­ist­ing units to pre­vent rents from ris­ing in re­sponse to a new fed­eral ben­e­fit.

“it might seem tempt­ing to of­fer rent sup­ple­ments as an across-the­board so­lu­tion, but in many ar­eas that would just push rents up,” he said. “There’s no short­cut. We’ve got to fix the af­ford­able hous­ing sup­ply short­age first.”

if rents do rise — and the re­search on the is­sue isn’t clear if that would hap­pen — it would likely be in the short-term, but then be off­set by ex­pected in­creases in the sup­ply of low-cost units, “which is re­ally what we’re af­ter here,” said ron Knee­bone, an econ­o­mist from the uni­ver­sity of Cal­gary who stud­ies home­less­ness.

“The govern­ment re­al­izes it’s not a so­lu­tion to sim­ply build what gen­er­ally end up turn­ing into ghet­tos of huge num­bers of govern­ment-pro­vided hous­ing,” Knee­bone said.

“What they’re re­ally rec­og­niz­ing here is that a bet­ter so­lu­tion is to pro­vide poor peo­ple with the hous­ing ben­e­fit that al­lows them to go shop­ping for hous­ing.”

he said any new ben­e­fit tied to a per­son would also en­cour­age a renter to avoid risky be­hav­iour like drug use that could lead them to lose their hous­ing and the ben­e­fit as well.

The fed­eral govern­ment is in the midst of fi­nal­iz­ing a na­tional hous­ing strat­egy and the min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble says he ex­pects it to be com­pleted by early 2017, although an ex­act time­line hasn’t been set. a sep­a­rate hous­ing strat­egy for in­dige­nous Cana­di­ans could take an ad­di­tional year.

a key goal of the strat­egy is to pro­vide ev­ery Canadian with af­ford­able hous­ing that meets their re­quire­ments.

Dave abel/toronto SUN FILES

A home­less man in Toronto seeks shel­ter from the Jan­uary cold in this file photo.

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