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Rent subsidy program 'critical' to preventing homelessness in N.W.T. gets revamp

A little-used program for N.W.T. residents who need help with their rent is getting a boost, thanks to a new advertising campaign and skills training intended to help tenants transition into the housing market.

Fewer than half the number of people who could be using it are applying for help

From 2012 to 2015 only 158 people used the rent supplement program, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The program was designed to help 150 tenants a year. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

A little-used program for N.W.T. residents who need help with their rent is getting a boost, thanks to a new advertising campaign and skills training intended to help tenants transition into the housing market.

The Northwest Territories Transitional Rent Supplement Program provides up to $500 a month directly to the landlord to help supplement the cost of rent.

N.W.T. housing minister Caroline Cochrane said that few people have used the program since it was launched in 2012, in part because of poor advertising.

"I do know that we are undersubscribed," said Cochrane. "We are spending less than we have."

To be eligible for the program, a tenant needs to be at least 19 and make less than $70,000 a year. They must also spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing and have lived in the N.W.T. for at least a year.

From 2012 to 2015, only 158 people used this program, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) Northern Housing Report. The program was designed to help 150 people a year.

Caroline Cochrane, minister of housing for the N.W.T., says the government wants to remove the two-year time limit for tenants receiving the rent supplement. (CBC)

Another reason so few people are using the program, said Cochrane, is because tenants can only use it for a maximum of two years.

Under the new plan, Cochrane said the government will remove the time limit for how long a person can receive the rent supplement. She says there will also be more support and skills training for tenants who want to transition into market rent.

Preventing homelessness

Yellowkninfe community advocate Arlene Hache has referred almost a dozen people to the program. She said she personally knows people who would have become homeless if it weren't for the program. And even more people could benefit — if they knew about it.

"I have never seen it [the Transitional Rent Supplement Program] advertised," said Hache.

Arlene Hache has referred almost a dozen people to the rent supplement program. “I have never seen it advertised,” said Hache. (CBC)

"When you look at a program that is critical in terms of addressing homelessness... you just have to ask yourself, what are the service providers doing… [to help] people access the program?"

The details of the new rent supplement program have not been finalized. The government wants to run it by the communities and their local housing organizations first.

"They are the people on the ground," said Cochrane. "It's important they have a say on policy development."

She plans to table the changes to the program in the fall sitting of the N.W.T. legislature.

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