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Rent aid program gets a fix

More money to be spent on needy tenants

Toronto Star, August 20, 2002
by Kerry Gillespie

The province's program to help low-income tenants pay their rent is being revamped in the hopes of getting more money into the hands of the people who need it.

So far this year, only $7 million of the $50 million available annually has actually been spent, meaning only 2,500 families and single people have been helped, rather than the 8,000 the program was targeted to aid.

Today, the province will announce it's about to change the rules in a pilot project to see if it can have the entire $50 million used, The Star has learned.

The provincial rent supplement program which covers the difference between what a low-income tenant can afford to pay (defined as 30 per cent of their income) and what an apartment actually rents for hasn't worked well because landlords don't want to participate in it and municipalities are worried the province will pull the funding in 2005.

To see if it can transform the program, the province is putting aside $6 million for a 1,000-household pilot project that will give tenants more power and municipalities greater flexibility in how they hand out the average $500-a-month in rent assistance, a government source said.

The provincial Housing Ministry's announcement of the changes is likely to garner a lot of attention from municipal politicians and bureaucrats attending the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's annual conference in Toronto today. Housing and Municipal Affairs Minister Chris Hodgson will be addressing more than 1,200 officials from municipalities across Ontario.

About half of Toronto's population rents, and affordable housing for low-income tenants is getting harder to find the city's population expands by 100,000 people a year, while there have been few new rental units built since the 1970s. Yearly rent increases aggravate the problem.

There are now nearly 61,000 low-income families and single people waiting for social housing in Toronto, and another 26,000 waiting in the GTA regions.

The most significant change to be announced today is that rent supplements can be given to tenants who need them where they are currently living, rather than waiting until a designated rent-supplement unit becomes available and moving into it, a government source said.

Under the current system, a private landlord or non-profit organization must commit a certain number of units in their building to the program, generally for 3 to 5 years. Then, the city fills the units with people on the social housing waiting list.

The landlord has no say as to who moves in. That, along with a surplus of tenants in moderate and low-income buildings, has resulted in few landlords participating in the program. If allowing money to go to the person in need, rather than to a specific apartment, results in more money making it into the hands of the needy, then the new rules will be made permanent and apply to the entire $50 million program, the source said.

But the provincial funding for the rent supplement program is only guaranteed until 2005.

Municipalities, including Toronto, are worried that after that date they'll be left paying the rent supplements for all the tenants on the program, who would face eviction if the funding ended.

The province has not yet announced whether it will extend the funding beyond 2005.

In 2001, nearly 1,850 rent supplement units were earmarked for Toronto, but many of those aren't being used because the buildings haven't been completed yet or there are people living in the units who don't qualify for the program, said Greg Suttor, of the city's community and neighbourhood services department.

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