Thursday, July 12, 2007

Alberta's Rental Assistance Program is Going Broke

This is what happens in a province in the middle of an oil boom when a Conservative government that admitted it had no plans to handle it refuses to impose rent controls.

A new $9-million provincial rent assistance fund is being swamped with hundreds of unanticipated requests for cash and will run out of money by September, prompting the associate minister of affordable housing to ask her colleagues to cough up more than double that amount to keep the program afloat until next year.

Yvonne Fritz said a newly created rent supplement program that began distributing money last month has been so heavily used it will likely run out in September, when her department predicts it will have provided funding to about 1,500 Albertans hammered by rent increases.

When the money was announced in April's budget, it was supposed to last until March 2008.

"Unanticipated requests?" That just shows how absolutely deaf this Tory government is about the housing situation in this province after being told for years by thousands of people that there's a major problem.

Here's one example of how the program is not working:

The potential for new money is little comfort for David and Ann Murray, two Calgary seniors who say the rent supplement program isn't working well in its current state.

David, 69, is a retired heavy duty mechanic, and his wife Ann, 67, is hobbled and weakened after battling cancer for the last decade. Their rent will go up by $400 Sept. 1. After applying for the rent supplement program, they were told Wednesday morning they will qualify for $80 in monthly assistance.

The couple says they will never be able to afford the new $1,200 rent for their two-bedroom duplex -- plus utilities -- with their monthly net income of about $2,500 and only $80 in help from the program. They say the rent increase will force them to leave the city for somewhere cheaper.

"That was a subsidy in name only," said David. "It's another situation where (Premier) Stelmach has promised things but when it comes out, it's a little dribble."

Referring to the province's announcement this week that it will contribute $15 million to the Stampede expansion, David added: "He has money for the Stampede, but not for low-cost housing or other people in Calgary."

The province's widespread housing crunch continues to be an issue for anyone who doesn't own their home, with the city's vacancy rate sitting at 0.5 per cent and rents increasing by an average of 18 per cent in Calgary last year -- the highest in the country.

"Crunch" doesn't even begin to describe it. It's a disaster and this provincial government waited far too long to do something about it - finally determining that what would work, in their minds, was to apply a bandaid to a gushing head wound. They just don't get it. These Conservatives never have. They want "the market" to decide and are just subsidizing greedy landlords instead of controlling their money-grubbing behaviour. Not surprising coming from this bunch of political tightwads though. Our province drowns in oil money while they throw pennies out to the people.

It's been that way for decades here, but the people who are either profiting from this environment or are so socially conservative that they're damned scared of any political party left of Attila the Hun keep voting the bastards in. It's Conservative hell and if anything does go wrong - well it's always the collective bogeymen "liberals" fault. (They used to be able to blame everything on Ottawa - not any more with their Tory buddies in power there, obviously.)

Perhaps...perhaps...with the rise in interest rates this week, the skyrocketing price of housing in this province and the middle class slowly inching their way down that oily ladder of success instead of having the upward mobility they're so used to as inflation hits them harder in their pocketbooks (the price of gas rose 6 cents overnight here last night), they might finally get some common sense and a whiff of long-overdue reality and actually think before they go to the ballot box next time.


In the meantime, Stelmach, expect more homeless people living in shelters (including families - as if that makes a difference to you) and don't be surprised when you're being continually pounded on to do the right thing. People may not have a home, but they sure as hell still have their voices.

Related: Alberta Municipal Affairs and Housing - the department in charge of the rental assistance program
The Calgary Urban Project's Low Income Housing Registry - for landlords and renters
Calgary Housing Company for low income rentals (with a waiting list of over 2500+ on a continual basis for years now)
Inform Alberta - a search engine for "community, health, social, and government services across the province."
craigslist - free online classifieds

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