Manitoba Tories call for welfare rent increase

Manitoba's Opposition party is calling on the province to increase rent allowances for people on social assistance.

Manitoba's Opposition leader Brian Pallister calls for rental allowance increase for those on welfare

Manitoba’s Opposition party is calling on the province to increase rent allowances for people on social assistance. CBC's Chris Glover reports. 1:46

Manitoba’s Opposition party is calling on the province to increase rent allowances for people on social assistance.

Officials with the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba said the rental allowance should be increased to coincide with the rising cost of living in the province.

"We are calling for an increase to 75 per cent of the median market rental rate," Pallister said at a press conference Monday.

"It hardly puts anyone on easy street. What it does is allows people to retain a little bit more money at the end of the month."

Pallister pointed out the rental allowance for people on welfare in the province has been flat for 20 years, but rent prices have increased steadily since then.

A one-bedroom apartment that rented for $491 in 2000, went for $776 in 2012, an increase of more than 60 per cent.

The province’s rental allowance hasn’t grown along with those numbers. In 1992, the average rental allowance was $271. In 2012, it went up by just $6 to $285.

Pallister said the disparity means increased pressure on food banks and the health care systems because families have to divert funds for food and other necessities toward rent.

"We need the rental allowance to reflect the reality that people shouldn’t be put in a situation of having to spend all their money on rent," said Pallister.

Pallister said if he was elected, the Tory government would boost the rental amount to between $375 to $385 a month.

Brendan Reimer of Make Poverty History said he was pleased with the announcement.

"Different parties are taking a look at this issue, taking a real look at the need and taking a look at the opportunity to do something," said Reimer.

"[They’re] saying this makes sense to do, and we need to do it."

Landlords association says increase overdue

Compounding the problem is a vacancy rate near zero in Winnipeg.

Avrom Charach is with the Professional Property Management Association and said the increase is long overdue.

"We’re at the point now where it’s almost impossible for many people on this kind of program to find safe, affordable housing," said Charach.

But Charach said he realizes the government may not be able to afford to increase the rental allowance.

"It’s a financial issue. We’ve got a government that’s strapped for cash — as all governments are," said Charach.

Conservatives shift policy

The announcement is a policy shift for the Conservatives.

Pallister was an MLA in the 1990s when the province’s PC party made a $150 per month cut to income assistance.

Now, though, Pallister said he wants to see some of the province’s lowest earners better supported.

"This is a hand up, not a hand out. None of us benefit unless the people in our province benefit from living here," said Pallister.

"Let’s make it possible for people living on social allowance to be able to afford a place to live."

Provincial government responds

Provincial officials said there are no plans in the works to increase the rental allowance.

Instead, officials are looking at increasing other supplements like child subsidies and RentAid, a monthly benefit that provides income assistance to low-income Manitobans.

Kerri Irvin-Ross is the Minister of Housing for the province of Manitoba. She questions the timing of the announcement.

"I find it really curious that the Tories, when they were in power and could make a difference, they reduced family income, and today they're standing up and saying well we should do that," said Ross.

The province will deliver their 2013 budget on April 16.