Posted on Dec 17, 2019

UCP cuts to rental assistance program, fee hikes will make a bad situation worse in 2020

A 24 per cent cut to the Rental Assistance Program is one of many cruel UCP initiatives set to take effect in the new year and make an already difficult situation even worse for Alberta families, say both anti-poverty advocates and the NDP Official Opposition.

January 1 will also mark the introduction of Jason Kenney’s sneaky “bracket creep” scheme, a move Kenney himself once decried as a “hidden and regressive tax grab.” The move will force Alberta families to pay $600 million more over the next four years. 

“Jason Kenney will mark the new year by ploughing ahead with giveaways to big corporations while life gets more expensive for everyday Albertans,” NDP Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said. “We’re already seeing rising costs, increased fees, and cancelled programs for vulnerable people and it’s only going to get worse in the new year.

“The across-the-board cuts and cost hikes are all being done to pay for the Premier’s failed $4.7-billion corporate giveaway, which hasn’t created a single job. We lost 18,000 jobs in November alone and now the Premier wants to make it worse.”

Poverty reduction advocate Rosemary Brown with We’re Together Ending Poverty (WTEP) said the Rental Assistance program is crucial for keeping people housed and in their communities.

“We've had members who have relied upon the subsidies in the past and the key point they have made is that being displaced from housing impacts the whole family, especially children who might have to move to a new school," said Brown.

The cutting off of new applications to the rental assistance programs will affect those who can least afford it as job numbers decline.

For families across the province who suddenly find themselves in dire straights, they no longer have access to the rental subsidies, as the Government has stopped taking applications.

Using the Government’s income thresholds, and the requirement that housing costs compose no more than 30 percent of income, along with average renting costs, this will mean low income families in Calgary will have to find $1,700 to $5,800 more just to put a roof over their heads. 

In Edmonton, they will have to find up to $3,500 a year, and in Lethbridge more than $1,500.

“The government is making cuts to AISH and the rental supplement. They’re cutting from people in need and these people are getting left behind. I’m afraid of where the cuts are going to end,” said Paula Vice, a Calgary resident on a fixed income. 

Research Associate Nick Falvo at Carleton University's Centre for Community Innovation said, “Alberta needs more affordable housing, not less. On a per capita basis, Alberta has far fewer subsidized housing units than the rest of Canada."

Budget cuts by the UCP Government have targeted some of Alberta’s most vulnerable, such as seniors, students and the disability community. The Premier has failed to deliver on his campaign promise as Alberta moves to the new year with higher unemployment, a stalled economy and families facing a financial burden they can’t afford.

“Our members are diverse and represent a wide cross-section of Albertans who share a belief that safe, secure, appropriate and affordable housing is a critical part of building healthy, vibrant communities. Not all of our member associations are Housing Management Bodies (HMB’s) but for those that are, cuts up to 24 per cent to their budgets and the rental assistance program was tough, especially so late in the year,” said Sandie Price, Executive Director for Alberta Network of Public Housing Agencies. “While the program is under review, we have been advised that most HMBs have closed applications for new intakes and are looking for other ways within their individual budgets to maintain the program for existing residents.”

“Over 164,000 households in Alberta are living in unsafe, crowded, and unaffordable housing. In Edmonton alone, approximately 6,000 households are currently on the Capital Region Housing wait list and many of them have been waiting for years,” said Susan Morrissey, Executive Director of Edmonton Social Planning Council. “It is clear that there is an urgent need to strengthen – not cut – these programs. Affordable housing is a necessity to combat poverty in this province and prevent homelessness. As a society, we cannot afford to neglect investing in affordable rents. A 24 per cent to the Rental Assistance Program will be a devastating setback for those who are already in precarious circumstances.” 

“There is always a social cost when funding is reduced for preventative programs like rent supplement, Income Support and the Alberta Child Benefit,” said Meaghon Reid, Executive Director for Vibrant Communities Calgary. These programs are designed to prevent families and individuals from the cycle of poverty, and if they are not able to do that, we may see increased pressure on our health care, judicial, policing and social service systems.”

The UCP have already broken their promise to make life more affordable for Albertans by cutting funding for education and forcing school boards to hike school fees. To date, the following boards have announced school bus fees for the new year: Calgary Board of Education, Calgary Catholic School District, Edmonton Public Schools,  St. Albert Public Schools, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, Rocky View Schools and Sturgeon Public School Division. In the case of CBE and Greater St. Albert Catholic parents are also being asked to pay retroactively for bus service back to September as well.

As well, AISH and Seniors’ Benefit recipients were set to receive cost-of-living increases in January but those were also cut by the UCP in a move the Premier stated would not be “onerous.” 

Reduced financial supports and tax increases come alongside a range of other fee increases that will cost families more.

Fees being increased and introduced by the UCP as of January 1, 2020 also include :

  • Government fees for all classes of Alberta Drivers Licenses increasing by $5
  • Registration of a recreational vehicle or camper increasing by $50. 
  • Statements of Benefits Paid increasing from $25 - $75, a $50 increase.
  • Motor vehicle administrative changes increasing from $13 - $15.
  • Some parts of land title fees double, with registration fees for land transfers or mortgages rising from $1 to $2 per $5,000 of the value of the land, in addition to base fees.