The Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement (SRHS) will stop taking new applicants as of July 1, 2018.
The announcement, part of Saskatchewan’s 2018-19 budget, is to make way for a new National Housing Strategy being co-developed by Ottawa and the provinces.
SRHS clients enrolled in the program as of June 30, 2018, will continue to receive benefits as long as they remain eligible. The province said they are making the announcement now to give people time to apply.
“What we have seen is that rental rates have come down, and the vacancy rate has gone up so we want to make sure that we’re reflective of that, and again we want to make sure that the overall social services is reflective of what our clients greatest needs are,” Social Services Minister Paul Merriman explained.
Anyone who applies for SRHS funding before June 30, and meets eligibility requirements, will receive SRHS benefits.
One benefit helps low-to-moderate income families with children under the age of 18 to access affordable rental housing. The second provides benefits for those with cognitive or physical disabilities and need supports in their household.
Benefits range from $61 to $364 per month.
“There’s going to be people who are homeless because of this. We’d argue that if you spend money now to do the right solutions, fewer people would fall through the cracks and you’d save money down the road,” countered Regina Homelessness Prevention Strategy communications director Blair Roberts.
“Unless they’re looking at significantly increasing the shelter allowance rates, this is going to mean a big shortfall for many low-income people in terms of covering their rent. Even though vacancy rates are going up, we certainly know that rent is not going down. It will be a real disaster unless they significantly fill in the gap, and quite frankly I just don’t trust them to do that,” Peter Gilmer, an advocate for the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry added.
The province says it will work through the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to collaborate with national partners in developing the National Housing Strategy.
The National Housing Strategy is expected to include a Canada Housing Benefit in 2020.
The province has invested $330 million into SRHS since it was introduced in 2005 when the vacancy rate was 4.5 per cent.
The changes are expected to save the SRHS $5 million this year.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) said Saskatchewan had the lowest average rent for a two-bedroom apartment at $1,051 per month in 2017, along with the highest vacancy rate, 8.9 per cent.
While new applications for SRHS are winding down, Social Services said the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation has social housing units available.
“We have social housing, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation has 700 units between Saskatoon and Regina that are vacant right now. Those are yours and my tax dollars basically sitting there and not being used at all, so if there’s an opportunity to move them into social housing that’s only 30 per cent of their income; that is an option,” Minister Merriman noted.
The ministry is encouraging anyone impacted by SRHS changes to apply, as they may be eligible for a unit.
With files from Colton Praill