The day rent is due can be stressful for many low-income people across Manitoba, but help from the Rent Assist program can make life much easier.
Given recent changes to the program, a public forum called Making Space for Change: The Story of Manitoba’s Rent Assist Benefit on July 16 at Crossways in Common was a good opportunity to assess both the progress and retreat of financial help for Manitobans in need.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Right to Housing Coalition, Make Poverty History and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg were all involved in the event, which featured four speakers from the participating organizations.
Josh Brandon and Jesse Hajer spoke of the social conditions that led to the idea of the Rent Assist program and what has changed since then. Kirsten Bernas of the Right to Housing Coalition spoke of the importance of activism, while Christina Maes-Nino finished the presentation with a brief speech.
Together, the speakers related a story of a necessary and helpful program currently in jeopardy with growing restrictions on eligibility.
According to Brandon, Rent Assist "was a major landmark achievement for anti-poverty advocates in this province."
The idea behind the program was to allow low-income people to be able to afford housing in the city so that they would still have money left over for other necessities such as food and clothes. Funding from Rent Assist was set at 75 per cent of the median market rent to allow people flexibility in looking for suitable housing.
Over time, advocates of the Rent Assist program won victories that allowed participants to continue to pay for housing, even with inflation taking a larger portion of their income.
"In theory, you should see these increases over time keeping pace with the cost of living," Hajer said. Yet even these basic ideas have been under attack, with the current government introducing more and more restrictions. Kirsten Bernas of the Right to Housing Coalition said,"It often takes a lot of time and persistence" to prompt positive action.
"Now more than ever we need people involved in the work and to push back against the changes."
With many low-income people living in West Broadway, holding the forum at Crossways in Common was especially appropriate. Whatever happens to the Rent Assist program will affect many of the neighbourhood’s residents now and in the future.
— Susan Huebert is a community correspondent for West Broadway.
Community Correspondent — River Heights
Susan Huebert is a community correspondent for River Heights.