When Windsor resident Sarah Bondy learned earlier this year that some Ontario government-funded rent subsidy programs were set to expire, she thought about the catastrophic impact the cuts would have on people with disabilities who rely on them.
Having somewhere affordable to live is something a lot of people take for granted, but for people with disabilities, "it gives us independence, it gives us a home to call our own," said Bondy, who lives with a disabling medical condition that leaves her dependent on rent subsidies.
While her subsidies aren't set to expire, she fears they could one day. In the meantime, without that support, many people with disabilities will end up in hospital, long-term care or on the street, she said.
"To make matters even worse, there's even people with disabilities signing up for [medical assistance in dying], because the waiting lists are so long for rental subsidies, and for housing and for just basic necessities, period, that people with disabilities are signing up for this just to get out because they cannot live like they're living anymore."
Bondy said some people with disabilities may also stay with abusive caretakers or be in homes that are unsafe if they cannot support themselves.
Due to skyrocketing rental prices and a lack of affordable housing, the subsidy cuts are adding to an already strained situation and increasing wait lists for people who don't have homes, said Karen Bolger, executive director for Community Living Essex County. Those with intellectual or physical disabilities are already being displaced, Bolger said.
So those hundreds of people over the next two years without the rent supplement programs, they will be homeless, there's not alternatives for them, - Karen Bolder, executive director, Community Living Essex County
"We have young people then being moved to long-term care homes inappropriately," said Bolger, adding that the facilities don't have the training or resources to care for individuals living with disabilities.
"What 25-year-old wants to live in a long-term care home? There's nothing for them, there's little peer interaction, they're living with seniors."
Bolger, who has 14 clients on the sunsetting rent subsidies, said although many are on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), they receive less than $500 per month toward rent. Advocates say that isn't enough.
'Hundreds will be homeless'
Some programs — the Investment in Affordable Housing and Social Infrastructure Fund — ended in 2019, though funding was allocated up until March 2024. The Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative, which was set to expire, is being funded on a year-to-year approach for 2022-2023.
The programs help people experiencing homelessness, in crisis, with disabilities, or seniors or survivors of domestic abuse with a portion of their rent — usually up to $500 each month.
The City of Windsor knew these programs were set to expire and worked to help defer people to other avenues of funds so they could continue to make rent. But officials say that's increased to longer wait times for people who do not yet have a home, and there's no guaranteed funding in upcoming years.
Windsor officials estimate expiring funding streams have "the potential to increase affordable housing demand, evictions and homelessness" for more than 200 households by 2024.
"So those hundreds of people over the next two years without the rent supplement programs, they will be homeless, there's no alternatives for them," said Bolger. "Hundreds of people will be homeless."
Pressure on municipality
Windsor recently estimated a net loss of $1.2 million due to the expiring programs — despite updated funding streams delivered by the province and federal government — and can't be expected to foot the bill amid a housing crisis, said Coun. Kieran McKenzie.
We as a disabled community have fought very hard for independence. And it's like we have to fight for every scrap of independence we we we can get,
- Sarah Bondy, disability rights advocate
"Any underfunding or cuts to the current levels of funding puts an enormous amount of pressure on the municipalities, particularly to look for ways to mitigate those shortfalls," he said. "I think it's extremely shortsighted."
The city plans to lobby the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and local MPPs for a funding commitment.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, the ministry said it created the Homelessness Prevention Program last April, amalgamating several funding streams and allocating $12.5 million specifically to Windsor.
"Our government's policies have delivered historic results in getting more homes built faster, and complement our more than $4.3 billion investments over the past three years to grow and enhance community and supportive housing," a ministry spokesperson said.
Last week, the province announced 26 new housing units in Windsor-Essex for low-income people and people with disabilities, and a $3.3 million investment toward 11 new supportive housing units for people experiencing homelessness.
Windsor West NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky said that provincewide, there is a 30-year wait list for people with disabilities looking for affordable housing.
She said the Ontario government is causing confusion about what funding will come and when, and municipalities need to be able to budget ahead of time.
"With more than 5,000 people on the [housing] wait list, the city needs to be planning for that. The city cannot wait until 2024 or the end of 2023 to be able to look at what funding is there," she said.
"It's really unfair what the government is doing, to council and the municipality. It is also really unfair and I would say cruel what it is doing to those who use the subsidies."
Bondy said living independently is important for people with disabilities, part of the reason she's so concerned about people losing rent subsidies.
"We as a disabled community have fought very hard for independence, and it's like we have to fight for every scrap of independence we can get."