'Completely blindsided': Manitoba cuts home repair programs for low-income tenants
Province blames withdrawal of federal cash for elimination of 6 programs
Low-income Manitobans without the money to repair their homes will no longer get financial help from the provincial government through a half dozen programs.
The province has eliminated several Manitoba Housing initiatives that support homeowners with limited financial means to address structural failures, plumbing issues and restore their homes to minimum safety standards, among other measures.
The programs also supported people with disabilities who wanted to adapt their homes to suit their needs, and landlords who sought to spruce up their accommodations for renters with little money.
The cancellation has put people like Nellie Shachtay, an 83-year-old Winnipegger living on her own in William Whyte, in limbo.
She's waiting on approximately $20,000 to cover electrical, plumbing and foundational fixes that have been approved by the province, but she hasn't seen the grant yet.
Not everybody can be rich. There has to be some poor people too, right?- Nellie Shachtay, recipient of home repair funding
"Are you serious?" she said after hearing of the program's termination.
She previously received a nearly $5,000 grant to fix a leaky roof in her place. She couldn't afford to pay for the repairs on her fixed income.
"If they would shut [the programs] down, I'd really be disappointed because like they say, 'Not everybody can be rich.' There has to be some poor people, too, right?" Shachtay said.
The six programs being cancelled were funded jointly by the federal government. They are:
- The Manitoba Emergency Repair Program for Homeowners.
- The Homeowner Renovation Assistance Program.
- The Residential Adaptations for Disabilities Program.
- The Residential Housing Improvement Program.
- The Rooming House Assistance Program.
- The Shelter Enhancement Program.
The provincial government did not make a minister available for comment Wednesday, but said in a prepared statement that Ottawa's commitment to these programs will dry up at month's end, as the federal agreement to fund Manitoba Housing will lapse.
The province said Wednesday it couldn't provide an answer on how much money was earmarked for each program or how many people benefitted from the grants.
Province will 'repurpose' home repair cash
"Manitoba Housing will repurpose funding to better focus on its core mandate to help the most vulnerable Manitobans and prioritize social and affordable housing," the statement said, noting this year's budget includes $2 million more to help with renovations and create new homes — but only for first-time home buyers.
The province added that funding from Ottawa would be replaced through the terms of the national housing strategy. Manitoba is continuing to negotiate with the federal government on funding through that strategy.
A statement from the federal Families, Children and Social Development office said the province has the means to create and fund the programs they liked.
It seems that until a new agreement is reached, low-income tenants will not receive government support to pay for repairs, said Dawn Sands, executive director of the North End Community Renewal Corporation.
"I'm terribly disappointed, I have to say," said Sands, whose organization helps thousands of tenants and landlords find affordable and adequate housing every year.
"This is a really important resource for our residents, especially those who are low-income homeowners, and especially our elders and our seniors and those with disabilities," she said.
"These programs really made it easy for them to make the vital improvements, repairs, modifications, whatever that was they needed to do so they can remain in their homes longer in a safe and healthy way."
Sands said the North End specifically needs maintenance assistance because it has some of the oldest housing stock and lowest-income homeowners in the city.
"We're quite concerned about what's going to happen to people if, say, your furnace goes and the emergency repair fund is gone."
Homes in dire straits
She's witnessed horrific conditions, where people in inadequate housing have used ovens to heat their homes or brought buckets to go to the washroom. Sands wonders how these homes would be renovated without government assistance.
"We've come across people that are in these living conditions because they can't afford to upkeep their home."
Sands said she was informed of the cancellations on Tuesday.
"I feel like I was completely blindsided by this."
Disability advocate Carlos Sosa argued it is hypocritical for the government to promise significant progress toward full accessibility, but then cut a program that helps people living with disabilities makes their homes accessible.
Landlord Robert Lopes also says he's disappointed to see the programs end.
Under them, he was obligated to keep rental rates low at his apartment complexes in exchange for having part of his renovation costs covered.
It was a win-win situation, he said. Owners benefited from low vacancy rates, while tenants had well-maintained lodgings they could afford.
The province "got very good bang for their buck," he said.