For many decades now, the federal government has been paying annual subsidies for all social housing units built before 1994. These subsidies not only allow low-income tenants to pay a lower rent, respecting their budget capacity (generally 25% of their income), but also permit appropriate maintenance of the buildings and apartments.
If these subsidies end, 127,000 social housing units would be affected throughout the province, which represents 85% of Quebec social housing stock. Most of the units are low-rent housing (HLM), but we are also talking about co-op and non-profit housing, as well as units located in First Peoples’ communities.
It would cost only about two billion dollars to renew all these subsidies. This represents, for example, a small fraction of the 20 billion dollars for the 2014-2015 defense budget.
Thousands of tenants in Quebec have already been affected by the end of the subsidies. For example, in Côte-des-Neiges one building of the Caldwell residences has lost its subsidies, putting about 140 tenants in an unbearable situation.
All told, more than 300 units in cooperatives, more than 1,400 units in low-rent housing (HLM) and more than 650 units in non-profit housing will be affected in our neighbourhood alone. The end of federal subsidies would likely mean major rent increases in those social housing units.
The tenants of these subsidized units are often, but not only, low-income people. Mme J, member of the HRC, wonders where they are going to put most of these tenants who cannot afford higher rents.
Some of the buildings could even be transformed into private housing and lose their social vocation. This is not science fiction; it already happened in other Canadian provinces. The number of affordable social housing units would drop, just as waiting lists for them grow longer.
Mme P, also a member of the HRC, explains that her cousin has been on the HLM waiting list for 7 years. She needs social housing since she earns about $11,000 a year with a rent of $500 a month. For Mme P, also on the waiting list, it is difficult to imagine how long both will be waiting if the stock of affordable social housing shrinks with the end of federal subsidies.
Mme P is putting more than 60% of her income into her rent. In winter, she can’t heat her apartment properly because she cannot afford to pay higher Hydro bills.
Federal elections should be a great time to think of the future of social housing and the tenants who depend upon it for their survival. But during the last weeks of campaign, few local candidates talked about the impact that the end of federal subsidies would have on residents of Côte-des-Neiges. According to the last census, 5,060 households in the neighborhood have urgent housing needs.
We cannot afford to lose what is already insufficient. To date, NDP and LPC have taken positions in favor of renewing the subsidies, contrary to the Conservative Party.
As members of HRC, we urge residents of Côte-des-Neiges to take a strong stand in favor of social housing when choosing their future MP. They should also follow the work of their new MP to make sure that social housing is a priority for her or him.
Federal subsidies are a direct way to take care of the elderly, the single moms with low income, the homeless and other vulnerable members of our society. We must expend investments in social housing, not shrink them.
Submitted by Iocent Cramer, Kim Le and Alexandra Pierre are members of the Housing Rights Committee of Project Genesis.