UCP redesign rental assistance programme

The party expects the changes will help 11,600 households. Meanwhile, 500,000 people have unaffordable rent prices.

Last week, the Alberta government announced that they had “redesigned and improved” the provincial rent assistance programme.

Josephine Pon, the minister of seniors and housing, had redesigned the Rent Supplement Program to allow more flexibility in housing choice. It’ll include a long-term benefit and a temporary benefit.

The government announcement claimed that the changes—which were in response to 2 recommendations from the Affordable Housing Review Panel—would serve nearly 4,000 more people than it did prior to that change.

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First, let’s discuss the temporary benefit.

Temporary Rent Assistance Benefit

This benefit is available to only renters who are employed or were employed within the last 2 years. It’ll be paid directly to the renters, not to those they’re renting from, and it’ll be restricted to only 7 communities:

  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Grande Prairie
  • Lethbridge
  • Medicine Hat
  • Red Deer
  • Wood Buffalo

Because it’s meant to be temporary, applicants can’t collect it for more than 2 years (although they can reapply, but may have to go on a waiting list), and their eligibility is reassessed after their first year. If they receive the benefit for the full 2 years, the benefit is reduced by 20% in the second year, but to no less than $100.

Not only do you need to be working (or have worked in the last 2 years), but you can’t be receiving any social assistance.

Applicants are prioritized on a first-come, first-served basis, and the size of benefit will depend on their household size and where they live, not on income level. However, the benefit is set to a minimum of $100 a month.

Plus, according to Capital Region Housing, this benefit is taxable, which means recipients must declare it as income when they file their income taxes.

Rent Assistance Benefit

Formerly the Direct to Tenant Rent Supplement, the Rent Assistance Benefit is a long-term benefit.

Like the TRAB, this will be paid directly to tenants, rather than property owners. Applicants will apply through housing management bodies (such as Lethbridge Housing Authority), rather than through the provincial government.

The benefit amount received will be based on household income and local market rent. According to Capital Housing Authority, illegal basement or secondary suites won’t qualify for the RAB; neither will shared accommodation with the property owner.

Recipients must pay for their own utilities.

RAB applicants are assessed on need, not first-come, first-served. They can renew annually, and there’s no limit to the number of renewals, as long as they continue to meet the income eligibility requirements.

For both the TRAB and the RAB, applicants’ income must be below the following thresholds, depending on the size of the rental:

Bachelor1 bdrm2 bdrm3 bdrm4+ bdrm
Grande Prairie36,00043,00050,50059,50072,000
Medicine Hat27,50031,50036,00045,50052,500
Red Deer29,50035,00043,00052,00060,500
Wood Buffalo40,00051,50062,50072,50084,500

So, for example, to qualify for the temporary benefit for a 1 bedroom place in Lethbridge, you’d have to make less than $38,500 a year, or $3,208 a month.

According to CMHC, affordable housing is 30% of your income. That means affordable housing for a 1 bedroom in Lethbridge should be $962.50, which is 30% of $3,208. The average rent in Lethbridge for a 1-bedroom unit is $909.25.

Keep in mind that CMHC considers utilities as part of housing costs, so this would increase the above $909.25.

Applicants to either benefit must have a total asset value of $25,000 or less to qualify.

According to the Final Report of the Affordable Housing Review Panel, average rents for a 3-bedroom apartment in Alberta increased by about 85% between 2000 and 2017.

The report also claimed that 500,000 Albertans are spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs; 250,000–300,000 households can’t afford the average rent in the province; and vacancy rates are over 5%.

These are related.

There are two causes for all these scenarios: rent has increased by 85% over 17 years, yet wages haven’t.

Sure, part of the reason that rent is unaffordable for so many people is because their wages are too low. Another reason, however, is that developers, property management companies, and landlords have almost doubled the price of rent over the last 2 decades.

Last week’s announcement said that the redesigned and improved rental assistance programme will provide housing support for 11,600 households.

Yet, as I summarized earlier from the panel report, half a million people are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing and a quarter million can’t afford the average rent price.

While it’s great that 3,800 more people will receive more help than they were a year ago, there are hundreds of thousands more who won’t.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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