Rent Assistance and New Funding for Affordable Housing Scaled back in Provincial Budget 2019

In 2018, CRIHI identified four priorities that we continue to believe are critical to stabilizing people and families in safe and affordable homes; crucial to the success of efforts to combat poverty in Edmonton.

  1. The Portable Housing Benefit (Rent assistance tied to a household)
  2. Permanent Supportive Housing
  3. Mobile Support Workers
  4. A Vision for the Way Ahead (emphasizing a healthy integration of housing and supports in communities across the city)

To promote these priorities, we gathered together on September 6, 2018 at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly.  The report and presentations from that event is here:  At this event, CRIHI shared these four priorities with government leaders at federal, municipal and provincial levels.

In November of 2019, Interfaith Housing made inquiries to housing and community services ministries at the Province in order to explore the impact of the Provincial budget on efforts to provide housing and help to under-housed people and families in Edmonton.  Our requests were answered with clarity and honesty, but the news is not good for now.

CRIHI is sad to learn that the 2019 capital budget points to a disinvestment in two of the areas we highlighted as critical:

Permanent Supportive Housing
In Capital Plan 2019 there is no new funding for affordable or supportive housing.  The province is continuing with seven projects already underway.  New projects or proposals are being considered in the gearing up for Capital Plan 2020 using the existing capital planning process.  But it is unknown what kind of dollars will be allocated in 2020’s budget.   We hope this is only a temporary pause, but that remains unclear.

There is also no new money for Senior’s housing this year.  This area remains a concern as Alberta will face a Senior’s housing crunch in the next fifteen years as aging baby boomers enter that phase of life.  A shortage of housing options will almost certainly be felt most keenly by low-income seniors. If we are to prevent a crisis in the future, greater investments are needed beginning now; especially on more affordable options.

The Portable Housing Benefit 
(Rent assistance provided to a household in need)
Budget 2019 begins a gradual reduction to rental assistance programs.  Existing subsidies are carrying forward, but providers have been given instructions to halt any new intake into that program.  The stated purpose of that pause is so that a ministry can do a redesign of the program to ensure those who most need it are receiving it.  But further disinvestment in this help is also slated over the next few years, purportedly to save money.

Below are the reductions to rental assistance slated to be rolled out for the next three years:
2019 – $500,000 reduction
2021 – 11 million dollar reduction
2022 – 16 million dollar reduction

This news is particularly disheartening as the money saved is a very small amount, and it comes out of a program that provides flexible and immediate aid to families on the very edge.  And there are many…

In 2019 there were 21,000 Edmonton households paying more than 50% of their income to rent; with some families paying as high as 100%!  The wait list for affordable housing can be three to five years.  For families in these circumstances, subsidies like the child tax benefit may be all they have to cover food, transportation and other key expenses.  A rent subsidy provides immediate help to these households stuck in this crisis.

Rent Assistance is also an area where faith communities are largely unable to help out currently.  Churches, Mosques, Temples and Gurdwaras can sometimes respond with crisis funding to cover a stay in a motel if someone loses their housing, but monthly help with the rent is a challenging commitment that most do not have financial or organizational capacity to address.

A rent subsidy provides immediate help to households in crisis.  Research has also shown such subsidies to be effective in stabilizing people and families.  For this reason, CRIHI continues to promote investments in rent assistance as critical to the effort to address poverty in our city and province.

It is our hope and our prayer that this provincial budget represents only a pause by the Province in it’s efforts to reconfigure provincial finances.  The lack of investments in real help for the most vulnerable people and families in our province will come at great cost to all of us down the road; weighed both financially and in human tragedy.

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