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This article was published 11/7/2017 (1604 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Recent announcements made by the Manitoba government will make life much more difficult for low-income renters in Manitoba.
Low-income households will pay more for social housing and Manitoba’s Rent Assist income support program is being scaled back.
Since its inception in 2005, the Right to Housing Coalition (R2H) has been advocating to improve the housing situation of Manitoba’s most vulnerable. Housing is consistently identified as the most pressing issue for people living in poverty. According to its most recent annual report, the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation (MHRC) provides housing assistance to 35,100 households.
The Crown Corporation owns about 18,200 housing units in addition to 10 emergency shelters for victims of violence. Of these, 14,200 units are managed directly by MHRC, with the remaining 4,000 units managed by non-profit/co-operative sponsor groups or property management agencies.
MHRC also subsidizes private, non-profit and co-operative housing operators, who own and manage 16,900 units across the province.
This supply is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of low-income households and many are left to rent in an increasingly costly private market. Manitoba’s rent regulations provide some protection, but provisions that allow the for-profit and non-profit sectors to increase rents beyond the guidelines make low-cost housing even more difficult to find.
R2H has successfully advocated for increases in the supply of social housing, which ensures that low-income families pay no more than 25 per cent of their income on rent. R2H also supported Make Poverty History Manitoba’s campaign for enhanced income supports for low-income households renting in the private market, calling for a subsidy of up to 75 per cent of the median market rental rate. R2H was pleased to see the province respond with the introduction of Manitoba’s Rent Assist program in 2014.
Although the supply of social housing remains far too limited and accessing affordable housing in the private market continues to be too difficult, Manitoba has made some progress. Low-income households have fared better in recent years because of an increase in the supply of social housing units and Rent Assist. Individuals in receipt of Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) are now less affected by the "welfare wall" because of Rent Assist. The program was designed to be available to all low-income Manitobans, ensuring that people in transition from welfare to work receive continued support.
But this progress is now coming to a halt.
The current government reduced its transfer to Manitoba Housing by $20 million in its 2017 budget. More recently, the government announced that it will reduce Rent Assist for low-income households renting in the private market who are not in receipt of Employment and Income Assistance. Effective July 2017, 7,000 renters will be affected by a cut in subsidy of up to $100 per month for some households. This may not seem like a lot, but for low-income households, every penny counts.
Low-income individuals and families living in subsidized housing also will suffer a blow by having their rent increase by 12 per cent for those living in studios and 3.7 per cent for those living in all other units. The change will affect households not in receipt of Employment and Income Assistance who rent from Manitoba Housing, non-profit and co-operative housing organizations. It also will affect those renting from private sector landlords within the rent supplement program.
As well, the Manitoba government has announced that individuals and families waiting to get into social housing will need to re-apply. Not only does this create an additional barrier for families seeking shelter, it seems an odd policy move given the government’s preoccupation with "efficiency." Non-profits are already scrambling to help families reapply and government workers will now be busy reprocessing applications.
Further, rather than considering how it might expand the social housing supply, the provincial government is looking to sell a number of public housing properties. A similar process took place in B.C., where it has been shown that public housing "asset transfer" programs come with great risk.
The cumulative changes to housing policy for low-income Manitobans marks a regressive change in course. Housing security requires a comprehensive approach that includes both supply and income supports. Manitoba was moving in this direction, but now it is not. The new government will defend this approach in the context of a deficit reduction at all costs. However, Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives also campaigned on maintaining Rent Assist and stated poverty is the number one issue in our province.
We don’t believe Manitobans want to make life more difficult for low-income people, but this will be the result of the current approach to housing. Punishing low-income people struggling to get out of poverty is regressive, mean-spirited and wrongheaded.
Shauna MacKinnon is a longtime member of the Right to Housing Coalition.