Atlin seniors worry about rent doubling when federal subsidy expires

Atlin seniors worry about rent doubling when federal subsidy expires

Some seniors living in the remote community of Atlin, B.C., about two hours from Whitehorse, have been told their rent will double next year.

"They're not going to be able to afford to live where they're living right now if it's not remedied," said Nita Connolly, a member of the Atlin Supportive Living Society, a group advocating on behalf of the seniors.

"We're in contact with them two or three times per week through different services that we provide and they're stressed," she said. 

Three seniors units in Atlin are subsidized and run by the M'aKola Group of Societies — an organization that operates approximately 1600 affordable units in B.C., primarily for Indigenous people.

M'aKola CEO Kevin Albers told CBC the subsidy for the Atlin units comes from Ottawa through a long term program by CMHC. It's an operating agreement that was created decades ago for a set period.  

When the agreement expires in November of 2018, rent in the units will go up significantly. 

But Albers points out it's not just Atlin residents who will be affected. About 800 M'aKola units across B.C. will be affected by expiring federal operating agreements.

"They all have deadlines, they all have end dates," said Albers.

And the issue goes beyond B.C. Nationally there are upwards of 600,000 units under some kind of federal operating agreement, said Albers.

In terms of the uncertainly in Atlin, Albers says for now, there doesn't appear to be any alternatives. 

"We certainly appreciate the difficulty that people are facing because of these agreements expiring," said Albers, adding that M'aKola's goal is not to make a profit, "but we also have to be sustainable in the future so we cannot operate at a loss." 

New federal housing money

"We are hearing rumblings through the new national housing strategy that there may be some efforts to extend those agreements but we haven't gotten any certainty around that as of yet," said Albers

NPD MP Nathan Cullen represents Atlin in the ridding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

"I'm a mix between angry and confused about this," he said.  "This could have some dire consequences for people and with nothing else in place, they're completely left high and dry, I hope that's not the government's intention."  

Cullen points out the recent budget speech did address housing needs, but not all details are clear.

- BUDGET 2017 | Greater role for feds in social housing

The 2017 budget indicated funding for a National Housing Fund, including $225 million over 11 years to improve housing conditions for First Nations, Inuit and Metis living in rural or urban areas. 

The budget also announced the intention to "preserve the baseline funding related to social housing operating agreements," and that "the use and renewal of the funds will be determined over the next year."