Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Social advocates say the Pallister government’s decision to privatize public housing will hurt low-income families and increase the number of homeless people.
They are speaking out about the announcement in Thursday’s budget in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, which they say underscores the need for stable, affordable housing.
The budget includes a five-year plan in which the government transfers ownership of public housing units from the Manitoba Housing Renewal Corp. to the non-profit sector.
"Over the next five years, Manitoba Housing is working to shift its role from housing provider to one of funder and regulator. A plan for Manitoba Housing is being developed with the key goal of making social housing more sustainable. The current system of housing subsidies is unnecessarily complex. The department will work with partners to develop a clear and simple benefit system that better meets the needs of tenants," the provincial government said in its 2020 economic growth strategy, released along with the budget.
Last week, Finance Minister Scott Fielding confirmed the government would switch to a "regulatory model," for social housing — something B.C. has already done.
"We want to work with non-profits to deliver housing solutions to Manitobans," he said.
But advocates worry non-profits won’t be able to keep rents low and maintenance up to date without sufficient government funding.
Kirsten Bernas, chairwoman of the provincial working group Right to Housing Coalition, said she’s afraid that without stable agreements between government and non-profits, social housing units could disappear. The group wants the government to increase the number of social housing units to address the waiting list of roughly 9,000 Manitobans who want social housing.
"We’re super concerned... not only are we not adding to the supply, which is desperately needed, but the direction the budget is taking us is to actually decrease the limited supply we already have," Bernas said.
"We expect, if we continue to go down this path, to see more homelessness and housing insecurity and poverty."
As part of the budget, the Tories updated their poverty reduction strategy, in which they promise to reduce the number of children living in low-income households by 25 per cent over the next five years.
The government says it is removing more than 3,000 people from the tax roll by increasing the amount of income individuals can earn before they have to pay income tax. The budget holds steady on the Rent Assist benefit and includes the creation of a new benefit program, separate from the Employment Income Assistance, for people who have severe disabilities.
Advocates have been pushing for a separate program for people with permanent disabilities, in part so they aren’t repeatedly asked to prove they remain disabled to qualify. That’s a step in the right direction, said Michael Barkman, chairman of Make Poverty History Manitoba.
But he said the tax cuts the budget touts won’t do much to help people get out of poverty.
"In my mind, (the tax measure) doesn’t help address the real needs of folks living in poverty right now — which is housing, income, child care, mental-health supports and a higher minimum wage," Barkman said.
Affordable housing remains a crucial concern, he said.
"This COVID-19 crisis is making it so clear about why we need to make sure that folks have access to housing, and to acceptable and high-quality housing, that’s not jamming 10 people in the same space where they can make each other sick."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.