Liberals explore creation of new housing benefit for low-income renters

The Canadian Press - January 12, 2017

OTTAWA — The federal government is looking at creating a new benefit to help low-income Canadians who struggle to pay the rent each month.

Multiple sources say officials want to establish a new housing supplement program that would link benefits to individuals, rather than housing units — a departure from how such supplements have typically worked in Canada.

Generally, housing benefits are provided to renters who need help paying the bills, but are usually tied to an apartment through rent-geared-to-income plans or rent supplements.

Should a renter move to a new unit, the benefit or supplement doesn't follow.

That creates problems — for women and children fleeing domestic violence who need housing quickly, for instance, or homeless people on waiting lists who need help addressing issues like mental illness or addiction.

One federal source said discussions have revolved around how such a supplement could be delivered, be it through existing provincial or municipal programs, or through the tax system.

Although the Liberals appear receptive to the idea, the sources — speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose details — say no decision has been made on whether to include the measure in the budget. 

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau said she wouldn't speculate on what will be in the budget this year.

The Liberals first budget set aside $2.3 billion over two years to build new affordable housing units, as well as refurbish existing ones.

Cities and advocates welcomed the spending, but said it would take time for the help to reach some 1.6 million households in "core housing need" — those who spend more than one-third of their before-tax income on housing that may be substandard or doesn't meet their needs.

In its pre-budget submission this year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called for a "portable" rent supplement to help those households and serve as a bridge until new affordable housing units can come online.

The benefit, if adopted, could also help the approximately 300,000 households who are expected to lose federal housing subsidies as funding agreements with social housing providers expire over the coming decade.

FCM president Clark Somerville said the upcoming Liberal budget presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle Canada's housing crisis, but warned the supplement wouldn't be a solution on its own.

The Liberals, he said, still need to put money into building housing and protecting existing units to prevent rents from rising in response to a new federal benefit.

"It might seem tempting to offer rent supplements as an across-the-board solution, but in many areas that would just push rents up. There's no shortcut. We've got to fix the affordable housing supply shortage first," he said.

The federal government is in the midst of finalizing a national housing strategy that the minister in charge of the file said he expects to have completed by early 2017, although an exact timeline hasn't been set. A separate housing strategy for indigenous Canadians could take an additional year.

A key goal of the strategy is to provide every Canadian with affordable housing that meets their requirements.

— Follow @jpress on Twitter

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Surely, it was a mistake. [...]
'What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers,' the president-elect said during an interview with CBS [...]
Air Canada says it has revised its uniform policy to make it clear that in-flight crews can wear poppy pins in honour of Remembrance Day. The airline says that [...]
Alberta’s NDP government laid out its case Monday that it’s helping to create jobs, but Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous acknowledged there are tough [...]
MONTREAL — There is a report that Montreal police requested and obtained a warrant to listen to two journalists' phone calls. La Presse says it has learned [...]
RENO, Nev. — No weapon was involved in a commotion that briefly disrupted Donald Trump's Saturday night rally and caused agents to hustle Trump from the stage, the Secret Service [...]
The province’s Financial Accountability Office cast doubt last week on the ability of Premier Kathleen Wynne to balance Ontario’s budget by 2017-18, as she has long promised. [...]
Queen’s students began taking to social media to denounce the Othello casting, and director Maggie Purdon said the criticism ‘started to blow up’ this week [...]
Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau is promising a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic off British Columbia’s North Coast by the end of this year, which would coincide with [...]
Canada will have a national price on carbon emissions by the end of this year, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says. [...]