Rent subsidies significantly improve quality of life, Laurier study finds

Rent subsidies not only help people who face persistent homelessness find a place to live, they also significantly improve a person's quality of life, a study from Wilfrid Laurier University has found.

Researchers expected people to do better, ‘but we didn’t know how much better’

A study out of Laurier found rent subsidies not only helped people find stable housing, it significantly improved their quality of life. (Shutterstock)

It's no surprise rent subsidies can help people with lower incomes in their homes, but a study out of Wilfrid Laurier University has found subsidies can also significantly improve a person's quality of life.

The study was conducted in the summer of 2014 when the Region of Waterloo receiving funding to help house 40 people who experienced persistent homelessness.

Courtney Pankratz was a mental health support worker in Vancouver and was finishing her masters in community psychology at Laurier when she began to follow 51 people, 26 who received rent assistance in addition to intensive support and 25 who did not.

The rent subsidies had "quite a significant impact," Pankratz said.

"We also found that they were doing quite a bit better in terms of things like quality of life." 

'Quite a huge change'

The subsidies were provided through the region's Housing First program. Each person got up to $350 a month.

The extra support included regular check-ins by regional staff, ensuring people had access to food and basic needs, liaising with healthcare providers to create support care plans, helping with government paperwork and fostering a sense of social inclusion.

Those who received subsidies were able to obtain higher quality of housing, but they also reported other major changes just six months after the start of the study.

"A lot of people talked about their mental health improving, people talked about reconnecting with family and building relationships. So in that six month period, we saw quite a huge change for a lot of people," Pankratz said.

"We were expecting to find that people who are getting funding were going to be doing better, but we didn't know how much better."
Courtney Pankratz was the lead researcher on a Wilfrid Laurier University study looking at how rent subsidies helped people who experienced persistent homelessness in Waterloo region. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Clients felt safe, comfortable

In the study, one participant said, "Everybody else has a home … and I have a home so it's more like I'm a part of the society, a part of the general ongoing society."

Region of Waterloo Director of Housing Services Deb Schlichter said they received similar feedback.

"Clients who received rent assistance told us that having their own place and feeling safe and comfortable spending time there made a huge difference in their mental health," Schlichter said in a release about the study.

"This speaks to the impact that having a home and the right supports (including rent assistance) can make in someone's life."

'Huge difference'

Of those who took part, 82 per cent said they had a mental health concern or substance problem.

"If you have any sort of mental health or addictions issue, it's pretty hard to do better if you're not stably housed," Pankratz said.

"I think we're used to thinking that people have to address their addictions issues or whatever else they might be dealing with first, but if you're cycling through shelters or the hospital or even prison, it's going to be really hard for you to do that."

She said she would like to see the region and other municipalities look at the study to see what a difference rent subsidies have make on individuals in their communities.

"It really kind of proved that having rent assistance makes a huge difference for people," she said. "It drives home the importance of rent assistance."