An Edmonton single mother is facing homelessness as a decades-old federal subsidized-housing program comes to an end.
Lorraine Catholique has been told to move out of the rental house she has lived in for more than five years.
“They’re just going to toss me out like that, me and my family?” Catholique asked.
Catholique cares for three of her own children, two in high school and one in elementary, along with three grandchildren under the age of three.
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For 35 years, the Métis Urban Housing Corporation (MUHC) received a subsidy from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), allowing it to set rent at 25 per cent of the tenant’s income.
Catholique receives about $2,200 a month from income and child support payments, so she paid $586 a month – about $900 less than what she believes the home would rent for on the open market.
“It meant that I can provide for my kids. It meant that I can have a stable home. It was everything for us,” Catholique said. “It was a safe haven, I’m telling you.”
The CMHC subsidy ended June 1 and MUHC says it can no longer afford to keep the rent as low.
Catholique has had no luck finding a suitable home and is afraid she will have to go to a shelter, which may split up her family.
“There’s no way I’m going to let my grandkids go (into government care), especially with all the stories that are going on,” she said.
‘Very, very tough situation’
“It’s a very, very tough situation for our families out there,” said Marilyn Gladue, Edmonton and Rural Housing Manager for MUHC and the Métis Capital Housing Corp.
Gladue said when the subsidies began expiring, MUHC was initially able to move families like Catholique’s to other homes.
"But it's now come to the point where we have no other (subsidized) units," she said.
MUHC once operated 739 homes under the program. Gladue said that as the agreements expire, the homes are turned over to a sister company, Métis Capital Housing Corporation. (MCHC).
Both companies are owned by the Métis Nation of Alberta.
MCHC renovates the houses, then rents them for a profit to qualified tenants at 80 per cent of the market rate – about $1050 a month, plus utilities.
It sells the homes that aren’t worth renovating, Gladue said.
Nothing affordable, mother says
Catholique said she was unprepared for the letter she received in April 2013 telling her to be out by the end of May 2014.
She calls the notice “generous,” but said there’s nothing in Edmonton she can afford. She has notebooks in which she keeps a record of all the places she’s called and all the programs she applied for.
“It’s not like I haven’t been looking. I have been looking,” Catholique said.
Gladue said 365 days’ notice was ample warning.
“We’ve had other families in the past that have, if not more children, less income, and they had to relocate and they’ve done so. And as far as we know they’ve been successful for them,” Gladue said.
Since April, MUHC has conducted monthly inspections of the home, which Catholique calls an imposition.
She refused to leave on the deadline and has stopped paying rent, which she says is to save money for a deposit on a new apartment.
Gladue said Métis Capital will now go to court to have Catholique evicted.
"I truly hope that Lorraine was very wise with the rental money that she should've been paying and she should have ample funds available for her to relocate," Gladue said.
Evictions common and a tragedy, lawyer says
Catholique turned to the Edmonton Community Legal Centre for help.
Staff lawyer Sarah Eadie says it’s “a real possibility” Catholique’s family will be split up and the grandchildren put in government care.
“There are no shelters for families in Edmonton,” Eadie said. “If you can’t care for your children and grandchildren appropriately, there’s a real risk you will lose your children to child welfare.”
Eadie called Catholique “the poster child for who needs Métis Urban services.”
“It’s a tragedy if we have these people who are already in social housing and continue to need it, and we evict them,” she said.
Eadie said thousands of people in Edmonton are living on low incomes and can’t find proper housing.
She said she believes the City of Edmonton is doing its best, but the money isn’t there to meet a growing need.
“In a society as wealthy as we are in Edmonton … I just can’t fathom why we can’t provide housing for someone like Lorraine,” she said.
NDP MP Linda Duncan said Catholique’s case is proof the loss of the CMHC program is hurting families.
“These are real-life stories, so it is a real-life problem and we need the federal government to address it.”
Subsidized housing to be ‘financially-viable,' feds say
CMHC says the federal government has spent more than $16.5 billion on housing since 2006, and about $114 million a year for aboriginal people living off-reserve.
In a statement, CMHC spokesperson Karine LeBlanc said the end-date of the subsidy was known when the agreements were signed.
“The majority of non-profit housing projects ... are expected to be financially viable and mortgage-free when the agreements expire,” the statement says.
“Housing providers will find themselves with valuable real estate assets and a decrease in operating expenses that can be used to continue to offer affordable housing.”
Need to ‘move with the times,’ Métis families told
Gladue said the housing offered by MCHC, at 20 per cent less than the market rate, will be still be affordable, just not subsidized.
She said the end of subsidized housing will put people on the street.
“It is unfortunate. It is going to show in the homeless count.”
But, Gladue said, subsidized housing programs were holding her people back.
“We need our families to grow,” she said.
“We need them to move with the times, we need them to move ahead, plan ahead. Life at Métis Urban Housing for the last 30 years is over.”
Catholique said she hopes that telling her story might help her family and others.
“I just have to survive on a day-to-day basis. That’s how I’ve been brought up. Be grateful. Be thankful. And when I lay down I say thank-you and start again the next day.”