Manitoba

No households cut off from Rent Assist this year, but anti-poverty group warns single adults being left behind

After two consecutive years of reductions to the number of people eligible for rent assistance, the Manitoba government says no households are being cut off from the program. But critics say the government is neglecting thousands of single, low-income adults by freezing the benefit they receive.

For most groups, income threshold for Rent Assist program, benefits will increase in July, province says

The Manitoba government says 75 per cent of Rent Assist recipients will receive an increase in provincial assistance to help cover their rent this year. Some single people on Rent Assist will see their benefit frozen, however. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

After two consecutive years of reductions to the number of people eligible for rent assistance, the Manitoba government says no households are being cut off from the program this year.

But critics say the government is neglecting thousands of single, low-income adults by freezing the benefit they receive, while other recipients receive more money as inflation rises.

The latest changes to the province's Rent Assist program, which helps low-income renters pay for private housing, take effect on July 1. 

For the majority of the thousands of Manitobans who are part of the program, monthly benefits will increase. A two-person household on social assistance, for example, will be eligible for $684 a month, up from $658, as of next month.

But for some single people on Rent Assist, the benefit will be frozen this year at $576.

'Marginalized folks' left out: Make Poverty History

The government is also raising the program's income earnings threshold, so more households are eligible for the subsidy. 

In the last two years, 300 households were cut off from Rent Assist, as the government twice lowered the income level at which a household is no longer considered eligible for the program.

A single person with an annual income of $25,584 or less was eligible for the program until July 2017. As of July 1 this year, that cutoff will be $23,040.

That's unchanged from last year, but an exception is now made for single people who are over 55, or who receive either the Government of Canada Disability Tax Credit or the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit.

The cutoff for those people will be $24,120 and that group, unlike other single people, will also see their benefit increased this year.

The cutoff in other household categories is rising this year, but most still remain below 2016 levels.

A household of three or four people, for example, can have an income of up to $34,480 before being cut off from Rent Assist. That's up from $32,600 last year, but still under the $36,384 cutoff for such households in 2016.

* As of July 1, 2019, the province will have two categories of single adults. People who are under 55 years of age and do not receive the Government of Canada Disability Tax Credit or the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit must have an annual net household income of less than $23,040 to qualify for Rent Assist. For people who are over 55 or received either of those two benefits, the threshold will be $24,120.

Michael Barkman, chair of the anti-poverty group Make Poverty History Manitoba, says that an increase to the monthly benefit and income threshold are positive steps.

But he warns single adults are being left behind because of the freeze on benefits for individuals on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA).

"Single adults who are on EIA are some of the most marginalized folks in our community," Barkman said.

"Those are people who we really have to support as well, but they often get a perception of [being] an undeserving poor, and they're people who deserve support from our province." 

'No one will receive a reduced amount': province

The provincial government says most of the 33,000 people currently receiving Rent Assist are getting more help. 

"About 75 per cent of recipients will receive an increase this year, while others' rates remain consistent with last year's levels. No one will receive a reduced amount," said a spokesperson.

The province must adjust the monthly benefit every year to reflect median market rates.

"Rates for households that are a single person without a disability will be based on [the rental rate for] a bachelor suite and held at current rates until the market rates catch up to the existing benefit," the spokesperson said.

The Manitoba New Democrats, however, say the government is making Rent Assist worse. 

In the past three years, under the Progressive Conservative government, income thresholds for the Rent Assist program have dropped and the monthly benefit has been reduced.

As well, the percentage of income those in the program must contribute to their rent has increased from 25 per cent in 2016 to 30 per cent.

With this year's change, NDP MLA Bernadette Smith said low-income adults are being left to fend for themselves while their rents are increasing.

"People are already struggling to make ends meet in Manitoba, and this government is just making it harder and harder."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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