The Government of Saskatchewan has announced that, as of July 1 2018, they will no longer take new applications to the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement (SRHS).
The Heritage Community Association has concerns about this decision. As a Community Association, we have a unique perspective on the impact of this decision at the neighbourhood and human level.
While we do not know the exact number of future potential SRHS applicants living in our neighbourhood, we are concerned that the current levels of poverty and housing unaffordability will be exacerbated by this decision.
The following information is from the 2016 census:
- 29.3% of families in Heritage are single-parent families (compared to 18% in Regina broadly)
- 68% of households in Heritage rent their homes (compared to 32% city-wide)
- 44.2% of dwellings within Heritage are considered unaffordable
- Nearly 10% of dwellings in Heritage are crowded
In our 2017/18 Heritage Community Survey, residents of this neighbourhood identified housing as a major concern, citing for example the quality of housing stock, irresponsible landlords, and homelessness. But one of the most consistent housing-related concern we heard on doorsteps, in interviews with service providers, and through our online survey, was a problem of unaffordability. We are concerned that the repeal of the SRHS will exacerbate the current crisis of unaffordability in our neighbourhood, and have a negative impact on other existing issues such as homelessness, mental and physical illness, and high crime levels.
The government has cited lower rental rates and higher vacancy rates as part of the reason for cutting this program. From our perspective at the neighbourhood level, higher vacancy rates are not the result of lower need for housing, but rather the increasing unaffordability of housing. This is made evident by the fact that 10% of dwellings in our neighbourhood are crowded. SRHS is a tool that helps people afford proper, safe housing – it does not solve the problem of unaffordability broadly, but for some it can be the difference between having adequate housing and being homeless; we worry that cutting the program will worsen issues of unaffordable housing and homelessness in neighbourhoods like Heritage.
The government has said that current recipients will continue to receive support so long as their circumstances do not change. It is unclear to us what is considered a change of circumstance. For example: Will someone fleeing an abusive relationship cease to be eligible?; If someone is evicted or forced by their landlord to move, will they cease to be eligible?; If someone chooses to move into a safer home, will they cease to be eligible? We are concerned that people may be forced to choose between their personal safety and their supplement.
We are also concerned about the minimum two-year gap between the end of new applications to SRHS and the beginning of the anticipated federal program. What will happen to Saskatchewan people who need help making rent between July 1 2018 and 2020 when the Canada Housing Benefit is expected to become available? We would recommend that the provincial government continue receiving applications to SRHS until the federal program has been launched and we are all confident that it will be a suitable replacement. Leaving a two-year gap in a support that is so vital to tens of thousands of people will result in undue hardship and increased levels of poverty and homelessness.
On June 7, we sent a letter outlining the above concerns to Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman. We also sent it to: the 3 MLAs whose constituencies cover our neighbourhood (Warren McCall, Nicole Sarauer and Carla Beck), the opposition critic for Social Services Trent Wotherspoon, and the leader of the Saskatchewan NDP Ryan Meili. If others share our concerns, we encourage you to contact them as well.
On June 12, 2018, we participated in a press conference to express these concerns, along with Poverty-Free Saskatchewan, End Poverty Regina, and Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry. The livestream of the conference is available here.
The Heritage Community Association is committed to better understanding the housing-related needs and concerns of our residents, and to advocating on your behalf. If you live in the Heritage neighbourhood and you are struggling to access affordable, safe and appropriate housing, we would be happy to hear from you. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 306-757-9952.