Cuts to an Alberta emergency fund designed to help people in arrears pay their rent and avoid eviction mean people are having to wait longer to access a smaller pool of money, clients and opposition members say.

Philip Clemo has been falling behind on his rent for months and went for help to an Alberta government office in Edmonton on Friday. But he has to wait three weeks just to get an appointment with a government worker. 

"Before, they used to help you right away. If you needed the money, they were there," Clemo said.  "Lately it's just gone downhill.  It seems like you have to wait for everything, no matter how much people are screaming."

The homeless and eviction prevention fund was set up in 2007 at the height of the Alberta boom, when rapid economic growth pushed down vacancy rates and pushed rents sky high, putting more lower-income Albertans at risk of eviction. The province introduced the fund along with other initiatives for tenants after rejecting widespread calls for rent controls.

After paying $42.9 million in 2007-2008, the province was forecast to pay $77 million in the fund last year. According to budget documents, it plans to spend $34 million in 2009-10. The province says rents have stabilized so not as much is needed in the fund.

Province says changes are administrative

Liberal housing critic Dave Taylor said his party is hearing more stories like Clemo's every day, particularly in the inner city ridings of Calgary and Edmonton where MLAs are talking to people in "serious, serious difficulty."

"They can't get the emergency funding," Taylor said. "It seems to be very hard to get."

When the issue was raised by Liberal MLAs in the Alberta legislature last week, Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Yvonne Fritz insisted the changes were only administrative.

But Taylor isn't sure that's true and worries the delays could cause some people to lose their homes. The Liberals plan to continue to look into the number of cases and keep raising it in the house, Taylor said.