The province is providing $5.6 million to non-profit housing in Manitoba, seeking to help tenants struggling with rent payments stay in their homes.
The two-year "rent bank" is a pilot program to assist low- to moderate-income families hit hard by the pandemic, Families Minister Rochelle Squires said at a news conference Monday.
"We know that Manitobans have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic differently," Squires said.
"We thought that a rent bank would be able to help those struggling and facing short-term crises that we can help them out with by offering them access to low-barrier loans."
The funds will be administered by the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association.
Executive director Christina Maes Nino said non-profits don’t want to evict residents who can’t afford to pay. But if a number of them don’t have rent money coming in, that’s not sustainable.
"At a certain point, the non-profit can’t handle that debt load."
That’s where the rent bank can make a big difference, Maes Nino said. "It will help non-profits keep tenants... That’s where we’re really optimistic."
The association has consulted with established rent banks in B.C. and Toronto. "Both have seen double-digit increases in demand with COVID," Maes Nino said.
Maes Nino isn’t sure what the uptake will be for the new new program in Manitoba.
The association has asked the Residential Tenancies Branch for information on the number of evictions and renters in arrears since the province lifted the moratorium on evictions.
It is not aware of a major increase. However, not all cases are formally reported to the branch, she said. "So many people move or do other things."
More renters are expected to need help when they learn that, instead of a refund, they’ll have to pay income tax this year after receiving federal emergency benefits. "Everyone’s waiting for a potential tidal wave," Maes Nino said.
The association is developing guidelines and expects to offer help right away to people who can apply online by early summer. By fall, it plans to get families on a more stable financial footing by helping them apply for federal child benefits and access other supports, such as financial counselling.
Meanwhile, the Opposition was skeptical the Progressive Conservative government will deliver the help promised.
"This announcement may help some, but it seems like another PC program designed to be unsubscribed — meaning it will be announced with fanfare, but the dollars won’t actually go out the door to help people," NDP housing critic Danielle Adams said in an email.
"Long-term solutions to the challenges facing people without shelter means addressing addictions, mental health issues and the continuing issues in the CFS system."
Squires said her government has cut the wait list for Manitoba Housing to 4,600 from 9,000 families in the past year.
It did so by investing in maintenance that had been deferred, making more existing units available for people to live in, and by signing on to federal housing initiatives, she said. The government has also been able to "clean up" the wait list by making sure there are "no duplications or errors," Squires said.
"I would hope that we’ll continue to tackle the wait list and reduce those barriers to create more affordable units so that all Manitobans who want a place to live, have a place to live," the minister said. "That’s our goal."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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