'Going to really to hurt a lot of people': Winnipegger worries as Manitoba Housing rent increases

Gail Hill has lived in Fred Tipping Place, a Manitoba Housing and retirement home on Osborne Street, for the past 17 years. Now, she's worried about her neighbours.

Manitoba Housing rent increased to 28% of tenant's income on Nov. 1

Gail Hill has lived in Fred Tipping Place on Osborne Street for the past 17 years. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Gail Hill is worried about her neighbours.

The Winnipegger has lived in Fred Tipping Place, a Manitoba Housing retirement home on Osborne Street, for the past 17 years.

Earlier this year, Manitoba Housing sent a letter to landlords and tenants in public housing advising that rent would be increased to 28 per cent of a tenant's income, up from 25 per cent for a bachelor suite or 27 per cent for larger units.

That change took effect on Wednesday, and Hill said it's bad news for tenants.

"I just see a lot of struggling in our building. People are really struggling to even eat, they have to go to food banks as it is," she said. "It's hard."

In a written statement, Manitoba Minister of Families Scott Fielding said the higher rent is still below the 30 per cent guideline laid out by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and remains among the lowest public-housing rental fees in the country.

The increase also brings the contribution rate for Manitoba Housing tenants into line with the rate for people in the Rent Assist program, he added. Rent Assist serves low-income Manitobans who rent in the private market.

"In order to ensure our social housing rental programs remain financially sustainable, we are focusing government support on those who need it most," Fielding said in the statement, sent to CBC News by a spokesperson.

"Tenants on [employment and income assistance] are not affected by these changes."

Minister of Families Scott Fielding said Manitobans still pay among the lowest social housing fees in the country. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Fielding said the Progressive Conservative government has increased funding to Rent Assist by $39 million, serving 2,200 additional Manitobans through the program.

But Hill said Rent Assist isn't much help to people like her or her neighbours, who can't access it because they live in Manitoba Housing.

"Rent Assist does not apply when you're in subsidized housing.… We can't apply for it," she said. "The three per cent that [Manitoba Housing rent is] going to go up is going to really hurt a lot of people."

Change should concern everyone: NDP

One of Hill's neighbours in Fred Tipping Place, John Creighton, said he's lived in the building for nine years and chose Manitoba Housing because of the 25 per cent guarantee.

"They had a mandate that you paid 25 per cent of your income in rent. I knew that I had a limited income when I retired from work, so I decided, 'OK, I'm going to move in there and I can budget,'" he said.

"Now they've all of a sudden changed the mandate from 25 per cent rent to 28 per cent rent. That three per cent, for me personally, works out to $50 a month or $600 a year, just that one change in the mandate."

John Creighton says he chose Manitoba Housing nine years ago because of the guarantee he'd be paying 25 per cent of his income. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Creighton said the increase won't prevent him from being able to feed himself but like Hill, he's concerned about others in his building who are less financially stable.

He and Hill renewed their leases recently, so the change won't hit their bank accounts until next year.

"But still, we have to speak about it now," Creighton said. "It's in effect if you didn't have a new lease."

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the change should concern all Manitobans, not just the people living in public housing.

Housing is a social determinant of health, he said, and when low-income people can't access it, their health suffers.

"That's going to impact them in a very real and hurtful way," Kinew said.

"But it's also going to impact all of us when we see those impacts downstream, in the hospitals or in the emergency rooms."