Committee proposes $1M rent bank for tenants at risk of losing housing due to COVID-19

Hamilton's emergency and community services committee has proposed a $1 million program that will help repair social housing and support tenants who are at risk of losing their homes.

'Rent Ready' program one of several housing-focused initiatives from councillors

A proposed "Rent Ready" program would support tenants at risk of losing their homes in 2021 because of the pandemic. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Hamilton's Emergency and Community Services Committee has proposed a $1 million program that will help repair social housing and support tenants who are at risk of losing their homes.

The "Rent Ready" program was one of several housing-focused initiatives raised by the committee during its meeting Thursday.

It would split a maximum of $1 million in surplus funds between a rent bank for tenants struggling to hold on to housing in 2021 because of the pandemic and rapid social housing repairs.

Other proposals outlined in a media release from the city include rent supplements for an Indwell Community Homes project on East Avenue North to create "deeply affordable" units and more than $1 million in municipal investment toward a partnership that will support 30-40 Kiwanis Homes to social housing tenants.

The committee is also recommending that $950,000 be referred to the 2021 operating budget to support the operating costs of an emergency shelter for women, transgender people and non-binary adults be considered.

Each of the reports will go before council on Dec. 16 for ratification.

Housing has been a hot button issue in Hamilton in recent weeks as demonstrators calling for police to be defunded so that money could be invested into free housing instead camped outside city hall for 15 days.

Asked about funding for free housing during an announcement about $999,000 being invested into the Griffin House Friday, Mayor Fred Eisenberger said "affordable housing is something the city continues to focus on.

"In Hamilton over the last six years we've spent, on average about $120 million for affordable housing and shelters and homelessness," he said.

The mayor said there's "not shortage of investment," but noted "more is required," pointing to the federal government's national housing strategy.

Filomena Tassi, the MP for Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, was present for the announcement and acknowledged that COVID-19 has revealed inequities and issues that have to be addressed.

"Housing should be a top priority," she said.

Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly also raised the fact that the provincial government announced Thursday that it was investing $47 million toward housing for people with severe mental health and addictions challenges who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Eisenberger said Hamilton anticipates being able to tap into that funding to help provide a place to stay for people who can be difficult to house.

Skelly also announced $6,395,900 in social services relief funding for the city on Friday.

The money can be used to protect homeless shelter residents and staff and renovate or purchase shelter spaces as well as create longer-term housing.

"Our government is responding to the ongoing needs of COVID-19 by providing more flexible funding to keep our vulnerable citizens safe," the MPP stated in a media release.

"We know that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of having a place to call home, and this additional funding will help ensure everyone can find – and keep – a safe and secure roof over their head.

with files from Bobby Hristova


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