British Columbia

$375 'woefully inadequate' to cover shelter for people with disabilities, advocates say

British Columbians with a disability are eligible for $375 per month for shelter, but advocates say the 13-year-old rate is far too little and has been for years.

The amount given to people with disabilities to help pay for rent or housing has not changed since 2007

As people with disabilities in B.C., Sonjia Grandahl and Brent Frain pay close to $1,775 per month rent in Langley but only receive $375 each to cover shelter. (Brent Frain)

British Columbians with a disability are eligible for $375 per month in assistance for shelter, but advocates say that rate has been frozen since 2007 and it's too low.

Rental and living costs have soared in B.C. in the years since then and subsidized housing is in high demand.

Roommates Brent Frain and Sonjia Grandahl both have disabilities. They say they pool their assistance to rent in Langley, but with rent close to $1,800 a month, still end up short.

"I mean there's nowhere in B.C. to rent for $375," said Frain, an advocate for people with disabilities.

He says compared to 1993 when apartment rent was about $500 per month and the shelter allowance was $325 per month, the disparity has grown.

Despite dips in the market during the pandemic, rents remain high in many parts of B.C. where, according to rentals.ca,  the average rent rose from $1,609 a month to $1,820 a month between 2020 and 2021.

While there are an increasing number of rentals on the market, prices are not in the reach of people on assistance.

Living below the poverty line

Each individual with a disability can be eligible for up to $1,183.42 per month under the provincial Persons with Disabilities (PWD) benefit. Since last spring, the province added $300 to it for COVID-19 support.

But even with the increase, the total individuals can collect often leaves them struggling. Based on the Statistics Canada's Market Basket Measure — which demarcates the amount needed to live above the poverty line in B.C. — a person needed to have a minimum base income in 2015 between $17,522 and $19,976 a year ($1,460 to $1,664 per month) to meet living expenses in this province.

"We are very much aware that the rate is woefully inadequate," said Helaine Boyd, co-executive director with Disability Alliance B.C. Boyd said the minister of health and the premier "are aware it's not enough."

"There is movement and intention for the government to investigate these rates in the upcoming budget in the spring," she said. She says her organization will be holding the government to account to increase the rates to a more "humane" amount — both for disability and income assistance.

Disability supplement gone by March

For Frain and Gradahl, being roommates helps pay the rent.

"If we didn't, there's no way that I would ever get to afford rent myself," said Frain. He's been advocating for years to convince the government to raise the rate allowed for shelter. He says it leaves many people using assistance meant for food and clothing — for rent. "You are lucky if you can get something for $1,300 or $1,400 per month."

Frain is legally blind and has been diagnosed with ADHD. Grandahl, who has Type 1 diabetes, says health foods she needs to eat can be expensive.

"Cauliflower is like $7 for a head in certain stores," she said. "A lot of us are going through the same thing. It's challenging to find a decent place to live. Even an old place right now is going for $1,400."

Gradahl said she had to move from her previous place place where she didn't feel safe.

Frain says the $300 per month benefit the provincial government has offered to low income seniors and people with disabilities since April — when the pandemic hit — is about to be cut off. Beginning this month, half — $150 — has been clawed back, as the government moves toward discontinuing COVID-19 assistance by the spring of 2021.

"People became almost reliant on that because the cost of living has gone up so high," said Frain.

He and others were hoping that money would not stop — but the government has started clawing it back and by March, it will be gone.

"That needs to be permanent so people can live. It's difficult."

The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction says that while the shelter allowance has remained static, overall Income assistance support rates have risen by $150 per month since 2017 for the first time in a decade.

The ministry said COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-or-no income people, especially those with disabilities. That is why the province implemented the $300 COVID-19 Crisis Supplement for people ineligible for federal employment insurance and CERB. 

"Decisions on rates going forward are currently under consideration as part of the Budget 2021 process," the ministry said in an email.

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