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Housing Ministry still reviewing their seniors rental support program

BC Housing still working on changes to SAFER | Seniors Advocate and BC Greens have said for years that it's an easy fix.

ravi kahlon, safer
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says update to the SAFER program is coming in 2024.

Wednesday March 27, 2024 | VICTORIA, BC

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

The BC Housing Ministry recognizes that their support for older-age renters has been falling behind.

While noting that in 2018, the BC government expanded eligibility and increased monthly rental payment amounts by approximately 42% under the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, this week the Ministry acknowledges that “even with these changes, we recognize that the SAFER rent ceilings have not kept up with market rents, and with the increased living costs that many low-income seniors are struggling with in the current rental market”.

ravi kahlon, safer
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says update to the SAFER program is coming in 2024.

This acknowledgement and stated effort to undertake a review (and presumably make some changes) will be welcome news for seniors who are recipients of SAFER supports, but also for the Office of the Seniors Advocate and the BC Greens who have been pressuring the BC Government for years about the shortfalls of SAFER.

Easy fixes:

The ‘fixes’ proposed by the BC Seniors Advocate and the BC Greens are primarily:

  • raise the rent ceiling and
  • adjust the income allowance factor

For a few years they have insisted these could be simple adjustments in the calculation of SAFER payouts. That presumed that the program was otherwise working well. For some reason the BC Government seems to think there’s more to it.

isobel mackenzie, seniors advocate
BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie delivered her last report in a media session March 14, 2024 in Victoria. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Working through the recommendations:

This week, the Housing Ministry has issued a statement:

“BC Housing and our Ministry have completed a review of the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) and SAFER to help us better understand the challenges and how to improve the programs.”

“We are working through the recommendations, reviewing options to improve uptake and impact of RAP and SAFER, simplify the application process, as well as improve accessibility of the programs for seniors and families. As the ministry works through options for the programs, more information will be shared.”

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon has made similar statements during media sessions in recent weeks.

No mention of clawback repayment:

For the four or more years that SAFER recipients have seen reductions in their monthly payments due to no increase in the rent ceiling while their income appeared to go up (due to increases in federal payments of CPP, OAS and GIS) could been seen as an argument for a payout of that clawback, i.e. a lump sum payout to make up for the shortfall in the years these seniors kept falling behind as their SAFER supports became minimized.

urban food resilience initiatives society, logo
The Urban Food Resilience Initiatives Society is based in the west shore of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

When seniors have less money for rent, they may be cutting back on other life essentials (e.g. groceries, medications, transportation, etc) which has potentially contributed to diminishing their well-being.

A similar clawback scenario happened when seniors who received CERB during the pandemic in 2020/2021 lost their GIS income for a year. The federal government eventually paid back that clawback as a lump sum payment to impacted low-income seniors in 2022.

Cost of living pressures:

“Across the country, costs have been increasing — especially for housing — at a rate that’s unsustainable for many people. We agree that changes are needed, so that more affordable options will be available for renters and those who would like to one day purchase their first home,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon in a statement to Island Social Trends on March 25.

langford, traffic

That still indicates a government leaning toward home ownership as the goal, whereas there is a growing sector of BC and Canadian society that either cannot or chooses not to undertake property investment (home ownership) as a vehicle for their funds or a lifestyle to maintain.

Revamping housing in BC:

“Last fall, we passed significant pieces of legislation, all centered on delivering thousands of more good homes for people where they’re needed most. Some of these changes, like the actions taken to allow small-scale multi-unit housing in neighbourhoods that were previously restricted to single-family housing, will help to deliver an increased number of homes that are more affordable to first-time buyers, like townhomes, triplexes, and houseplexes,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.

multiplex, designs, housing
Standardized building designs to help streamline the permitting process in BC communities, [BC Govt]

“And with our recently launched BC Builds program, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at both rental and home ownership programs. As we develop a lower-cost home ownership program for BC Builds, we will explore varying possibilities,” the housing minister said. The federal government recently matched funds to the BC Builds program.

“Our goal is to support attainable home ownership for people across BC, and that will determine the direction of future programs. We know that by increasing the supply of homes over time, more affordable options will be available for renters and those looking to purchase their first home,” said Kahlon.

monk office, discount

Canadian Renters Bill of Rights:

in line with the importance of renting in this economy: “Renters matter,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver today.

He outlined a new upcoming Canadian Renters Bill of Rights – lease agreements, clear history of apartment pricing, a new legal aid fund (to help fight renovictions), and rent will count toward becoming a home owner. The demonstrated reliability of renting will be taken into account when applying for a mortgage. Financial institutions will be required to include a renter’s payment history in their credit history.”

justin trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver on March 27, 2024. [livestream]

People are paying more than ever for rent nowadays, said Trudeau.

He addressed this in particular to young Canadians who are trying to get their lives rolling. “You are the heartbeat of the economy.” he said in his media session today, as part of “an economy that is fair for every generation”.

Today in Vancouver, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland thanked BC Premier David Eby and Finance Minister Katrine Conroy for their input to renters protection momentum.

dumont tirecraft, winter road safety

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