Another 150 Manitoba households cut off from Rent Assist after income threshold drops
Government says changes will make Rent Assist program sustainable
For the second year in a row, the province's Progressive Conservative government has made changes to its Rent Assist program.
The latest change, which came into effect July 1, will disqualify 150 households from the program and cut the monthly rent benefit given to thousands of Manitobans.
The deductible under the Rent Assist program for low-income renters in private housing who are not on social assistance has risen to 30 per cent of their income from 28 per cent.
That means they are now expected to contribute 30 per cent, rather than 28 per cent, of their income toward rent.
Decreases to the maximum amount paid monthly will also apply to those who aren't on Employment and Income Assistance (EIA).
The change also puts the earnings threshold lower, meaning that about 150 households will no longer receive the subsidy.
'We just can't lose that'
David McIntyre, a 48-year-old Winnipegger who earns $15,000 a year through his Canada Pension Plan Disability benefit plus Rent Assist, will lose a further $10 each month, on top of the $28 cut from his benefit last July when changes were first made to eligible Manitobans not on EIA.
McIntyre has been on disability since 2002, when he lost his vision. He says the people making the decisions to cut the benefit don't understand the difference $38 can make for low-income people.
"If I shop properly, that is two bags of groceries. That is a few loads of laundry. It can can buy me some Handi-Transit rides.… It is impactful," McIntyre said.
"I want [the provincial government] to understand that we can't afford to lose 20, 30 or 40 dollars a month. We just can't lose that."
This is the second consecutive year the government has lowered the threshold. It increased the earnings contribution to 28 per cent, up from 25 per cent, on July 1, 2017.
The program is designed to help pay housing costs for Manitoban households on EIA or low-income households.
According to government officials, about 32,000 Manitobans use the program and about 25,000 are on social assistance.
Rent Assist is the solution that we have right now because we don't have enough social housing in the province.- Michael Barkman, Make Poverty History Manitoba
A spokesperson for the Department of Families said the changes are necessary to keep the program sustainable after it saw an increase of almost 3,000 households using the program compared to spring 2016.
"The number of clients affected and the amount of the reduction will vary depending on their income," said the spokesperson.
The average monthly reduction for those not on social assistance will be about $4, he said.
Households currently on social assistance get an increase to their monthly benefit. A single person household will now be eligible to receive $576 a month, up from $563.
Michael Barkman, the chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba, says rather than cutting the number of people who can receive the benefit, the government should focus on building more affordable housing.
He is calling on the government to revert back to the threshold set in 2016.
"Rent Assist is the solution that we have right now because we don't have enough social housing in the province, which is one of the most important things in terms of folks who are low-income or on long-term disability," he said.
"People are forced to go into private market housing, which is why the government is seeing greater spending on Rent Assist."
- An earlier version of this story said that the average monthly reduction for those not on social assistance would be $30. In fact, it's around $4.Jul 06, 2018 12:04 PM CT