BRUCE COUNTY – Christine MacDonald, director of human services for the county, presented council with a report on the municipal rent supplement and housing analysis.
She told council that affordable housing is a major focus of all levels of government. The county continues to be guided by the 2019-2023 housing and homelessness plan update, as well as several pieces of provincial legislation.
In February, Bruce County council directed staff to produce a report with recommendations for an enhanced rent supplement or housing allowance program. The purpose was to reach more people, in light of a lengthy and growing wait list for subsidized housing.
The idea of rent supplements and housing allowances is to bridge the gap between what an individual or family can afford to pay, and what the actual cost of housing is – a practical way of providing affordable housing that’s faster than building new subsidized units. The supplements are geared toward recipients of social assistance, low-income earners and seniors.
The county currently administers five streams of rent supplements that have various eligibility requirements, as well as the Canada Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB). The county recently received its COHB allocation of $192,500, which will assist 42-55 applicants currently on the community housing wait list.
The need for rent supplements was illustrated in the report by comparing what a minimum-wage earner working 35 hours per week could afford to pay in rent, based on spending 40 per cent of their income on housing. The maximum rent they could afford would be $910 per month. In March, United Way Bruce Grey released a document on what it costs to live in this area. To afford a $1,500 per month apartment, the person would need to earn $45,000 per year, or $24.72 per hour. To make the $1,500 per month apartment affordable, the minimum-wage earner would require a supplement of $590 per month or $7,080 per year.
Residents on social assistance require a larger subsidy, since a single person on Ontario Works (OW) receives $390 per month for shelter; a couple receives $642 and a couple with one child receives $697. A single person on the Ontario Disability Support Program receives $497 for shelter; a couple receives $781 and a couple with one child gets $846. The single OW recipient would need a subsidy of $1,100 a month and the one on ODSP $1,003.
The rent supplement is currently paid to the landlord; if the person moves, they have to reapply. However, the COHB is paid directly to the tenant, who can move anywhere in the province and continue to receive payment.
The county has $98,394 in new funding, to be used as a housing allowance for eligible renter households. The new housing allowance program would begin Sept. 1 of this year, allowing staff time to develop eligibility requirements and guidelines for the new households.
The report proposed that with the addition of 27 new housing allowances, and approximately 55 new COHBs, up to 82 additional applicants would be removed from the wait list.
County Coun. Chris Peabody, Brockton, commended staff in working to get 82 people off the wait list.
County Coun. Luke Charbonneau, Saugeen Shores, agreed, adding, “Providing immediate help for 82 people is just outstanding.” He noted that new housing units are being constructed throughout the county, “and it’s a great opportunity for this county to help get people into those new units from Tobermory to Teeswater, and everywhere in between.”
MacDonald commented that the department is “weighing out various options on housing, both rent subsidies, and a second housing project similar to the one just completed in Kincardine.”
County Coun. Robert Buckle, South Bruce, said, “This is very important. A lot of people with low incomes are really struggling.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times