Fears of evictions across Canada as feds end co-op housing subsidy

By Erika Tucker and Vassy Kapelos, January 22, 2014 - TORONTO - Krystyl Randall, legally blind and out of work for the last two years, lives in a co-op housing unit in Ottawa with her son. But the federal government subsidy she relies on to pay her rent is coming to an end. “If I had to pay everything before I could even get food on the table, that’s a big worry,” said Randall.

Nicholas Gazzard, the executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, said the point of the subsidy is to allow people with low or fixed incomes to be able to pay rent.

“Seniors, people with disabilities…[the subsidy allows them] to have an affordable rent instead of having to use money they should be spending on food,” said Gazzard.

Randall is afraid she’ll have to live on the street because she doesn’t think there are other places with rent low enough for her and her son.

“I don’t have very many friends, so trying to find a place to live with somebody, it’s really hard. And of course even if I’m living with somebody, the ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program] that I’m living under, they take money away if I’m living with somebody,” she said.

Subsidies have been provided to co-ops through agreements to pay the mortgage, and most were established in the 1990s for 20 or 30-year terms. But when the mortgage is paid, the subsidy ends.

Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen said this shouldn’t be coming as a surprise.

“These housing providers knew that these mortgages were coming up, they knew these agreements would be ending because the mortgages are paid off,” said Bergen

In Ontario, more than 7,000 households are slated to lose their rental top-ups. In Quebec, it’s nearly 6,000 and in British Columbia about 4,200 households.

Gazzard believes the problem is Canada’s “fragmented housing landscape” and could be resolved by getting provinces and feds to solve the problem collectively.

“I think the solution that’s most realistic and practical is for the provinces to provide rent supplement programs to replace this existing subsidy stream, but it would be incumbent on the federal government to cost-share those programs,” he said.

But Bergen said the $1.25 billion over five years the federal government has invested in affordable housing should be enough for the provinces to use for social housing projects as needed.

“The majority of these co-ops have managed very well and are sitting on valuable assets and are going to continue to provide that affordable housing solution,” she said. “Where there are challenges, we would expect the provinces to step in and to make those decisions with the funding that they have from the federal government.”

Ontario Minister of Housing Linda Jeffrey says Ontario’s share of that $1.25 billion is actually a decrease in funding, and not a sufficient amount for provinces to manage without the federal government’s help.

“By 2018-19 it’ll be about a $100-million drop. That’s a very significant loss of affordable housing dollars,” said Jeffrey.

The ramifications of the drop are at the front of Randall’s mind, who has a message for the federal government.

“There are a lot of people out there like me who need this,” she said. “It’s not a luxury, it’s not something that people should be complaining about or grumbling because their tax money is going to this.

“It’s something people need. Because if we don’t have it, there’s nothing for us. We are living on the street.”

© Shaw Media, 2014