New Brunswick is expanding the Canada-New Brunswick Housing Benefit program to include more low-income working families in the province, Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch announced in December. While any investment in housing is essential to the well-being of New Brunswickers, housing advocates and academics worry that the short-term, targeted approach of this benefit will do little to address the affordable housing crisis.
Launched in June 2021, the program is meant to ensure that families don’t have to choose between food or rent. It initially offered short-term rental housing assistance to families with pre-tax employment income between $14,000 and $38,000. However, since the launch of the program, only 1,000 households have been assisted, ie around 2,700 adults and children, while the program could, according to the minister, support up to 6,700 households.
The program’s criteria have now been expanded to include renter households with children under 19 who earn between $12,500 and $50,000 a year. People who qualify for the benefit will receive government assistance for three years and the benefit will transfer to them if they move. The amount families receive varies based on household size and income, as well as average local market rents.
Designed as part of the National Housing Strategy through a bilateral agreement between the federal and New Brunswick governments, the program represents an investment of more than $98 million shared equally between the two levels of government.
An aid program that is too targeted
Most critics insist that the program remains too targeted, such as Aditya Rao, an organizer with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants’ Rights: “It’s no surprise there hasn’t been significant participation in this program due to the number of requirements to access it. . It’s so targeted that the only thing more targeted is a Facebook ad!
Unlike National Housing Strategy agreements with other provinces in Canada, New Brunswick’s eligibility criteria for benefits are very specific. In Nova Scotia, for example, the housing assistance program does not require recipients to have dependents or to have employment income.
To be eligible for the Canada-New Brunswick Housing Benefit, households must:
- Live and work in New Brunswick.
- Having primary custody of a child or children under the age of 19 or of one or more disabled dependents aged 19 or over.
- Rent their accommodation.
- Not receiving a housing subsidy from the Department of Social Development.
- Work and earn a minimum pre-tax employment income of $12,500 per year and a maximum of $50,000. This is the combined pre-tax employment income of all adults over age 19 living in the household.
- Be up to date with your tax returns and report your income to the Canada Revenue Agency.
- Be the only person in the household who applies for and receives the benefit.
A focus on the “deserving” poor
Several times during the announcement on December 15, Minister Bruce Fitch and Federal Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion, Ahmed Hussen, emphasized that this housing assistance is intended for “hard-working families”.
Finch said the benefit “will ensure that many Hardworking New Brunswickers can have a better quality of life and allow more families to keep more money in their pockets. Hussen added that “this program will have a great impact on the lives of working families in New Brunswick, and it shows that the National Housing Strategy is working.
These statements suggest that the goal of this program is not to help all low-income households in the province, but to provide specific support to low-income working tenants with children, who have historically been seen as deserving more. to be supported only those unable to work. Today, more than 6,000 households are waiting for social housing in New Brunswick, including many single people, young people, families unable to work, elderly or retired people and people with disabilities who are struggling to find a affordable housing.
While any initiative to improve housing affordability is welcome, the province continues to miss a segment of the population that has few or in many cases no viable options for finding affordable housing.
The 90 days of the province Rental Housing Landscape Review notes that New Brunswick’s economy has grown; however, they continue to offer lower social assistance and disability support payments than other jurisdictions in Canada. Many New Brunswickers will continue to fall through the cracks of a system that fails individuals and families who are unable to work.
Too short term to deal with the housing crisis
This type of housing assistance, which is supposed to be short-term to cover family expenses for three years, does not address the causes of household poverty and does nothing to address rising rental prices. related to the financialization of the housing market. Also, with this kind of support, the government is not solving the problem of the lack of social housing in the province.
Rents in New Brunswick have increased by nearly 30% over the past ten years. the 2018 Canadian Housing Survey conducted by Statistics Canada revealed that 80% of households lived in unaffordable conditions, with housing costs accounting for 30% or more of their income. This indicates a massive need for affordable housing solutions in the province.
The long-term impact of the Canada-New Brunswick Housing Benefit will depend on its ability to reach more households, its sustainability beyond three years, and the increase in income and benefits beyond the rental market growth, none of which is guaranteed.
This program subsidizes the income of working families and relieves employers of the obligation to pay a living wage. It also does nothing to address key housing affordability issues plaguing New Brunswick, such as low vacancy rates and unregulated rent increases. To address housing affordability issues, we need to focus more on policies to regulate the rental market and on ways to increase the availability of non-market housing options.
Benefits to supplement rents on the private market can help the whole population in the short term; however, we must address housing stock concerns in a way that increases tenant self-reliance, stability and long-term well-being.
Benefits allow tenants to choose their accommodation, but with 47% of tenants reporting rentals in “very poor condition” in the rental report 2021subsidizing private market rents paid to landlords is a far cry from what we need.
Longer-term stability requires market regulation, investment in public housing, and the development of a vibrant co-operative and non-profit housing sector. If we are to count on short-term assistance, it must, at the very least, include all those in need of affordable housing.
Chloé Reiser is a postdoctoral fellow at Community Housing Canada Research Partnership. Julia Woodhall-Melnik is an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of New Brunswick. Reiser and Woodhall-Melnik are both community researchers and affordable housing advocates with the Housing, Mobilization and Engagement Research Lab at the University of New Brunswick Saint John.