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Manitoba’s Rent Assist program offers housing solution during COVID-19

reposted from The Star

 

April 29, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, access to safe and affordable housing is increasingly important. Our physical health depends on our ability to isolate ourselves as necessary from our family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

Just as importantly, our mental health requires that our housing be stable and good quality. It is essential for governments to ensure that all people have access to housing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to minimize the impact of the accompanying economic downturn.

For the millions of people who have lost income and jobs as a result of the pandemic, housing, and thus health, is now precarious. For those living at the edges of their income, including the 50 per cent of renter households that have less than a month’s worth of savings, this is nothing new: life was already precarious and now is even more so.

The Government of Canada is working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and private lenders to help homeowners defer their mortgage payments, and has created supports for rent for small businesses. No similar program has been developed to support renter households.

All provinces — with Ontario among the first — have enacted some kind of eviction prevention to protect tenants losing income from COVID-19 from being evicted during the pandemic. This is an important step, but leaves open the question of what will happen post-pandemic: will tenants, now owing several months’ rent, simply be kicked out then? It is important to ensure that this does not happen.

The current median market rent in Canada for cities with 10,000-plus people is $1,077 for a two-bedroom apartment. While undoubtedly beneficial, the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit is not enough to make median rents affordable anywhere in Canada.

Manitoba’s Rent Assist, a housing allowance program launched in 2014, offers a model that could be the foundation of a national or provincial response to support renters.

Rent Assist provides a supplement for housing directly to the tenant, equal to the difference between 30 per cent of household income and 75 per cent of the median market rent. It is universally available to all households in non-subsidized housing, including both households receiving social assistance and those that are not. Rent Assist has enabled tens of thousands of households to better afford housing in the private market and is helping to bring working families above the poverty line.

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