By Nick Kuhl on November 30, 2019.
The Lethbridge Housing Authority finds itself in a state-of-flux and
spinning its wheels a bit on too little information, with a new
government seeking to restructure how housing support is paid out to
individuals and families in need.
“Nothing has been cut in our world yet, but there has been an
announcement about the restructuring of the rent supplement program,
primarily because of the Reaching Home federal program,” explains
Lethbridge Housing Authority CAO Robin James.
James confirms the housing authority is not accepting new applications
for its rent supplement program until the dust settles on what the
province wants to do with Reaching Home, which requires the province
to match funds with the federal government to receive any money from
“Prior to our most recent election, our previous government did sign
onto a Reaching Home cost-matching program with the federal
government,” she says. “Now it is trying to be rolled out, and it
is extremely expensive, and we’re not sure what that is going to look
like. The federal government wants the programming out by April 1. We
have to meet that timeline, but it depends on whether or not the
province plays ball. So I don’t know what’s going to happen —
it’s a political decision.”
The Lethbridge Housing Authority manages 700 units in Lethbridge on
behalf of the Alberta Social Housing Corporation and owns 120 other
units either in its own right or in partnership with other community
organizations. There is usually a wait list of about 400 applicants
hoping to get into a subsidized rent situation or into a housing unit,
She acknowledges it can be frustrating for those who wait; especially
when there is no queue per se. Each applicant’s needs are rated on a
system outlined by provincial legislation, and if someone comes along
with a higher need on this scale they go straight to the head of the
line, no matter how long others might have waited.
“Everyone feels when you are in need, you are in need,” says James.
“And so sometimes it’s hard to recognize that maybe your neighbours
are in more need than you are; because you are feeling those pressures
on your family day to day.”
The housing authority does have three streams, with applicants in
these three streams only being rated in comparison to others in the
same situation. Those streams include those with disabilities, those
over the age of 50 years and those family units who have a low income.
“We have just over 400 units that are aged for 50 years old-plus
without dependents,” James explains. “And then we have just shy of
300 units that are two-bedroom-plus for family housing, and then we
have the rent supplement program. The primary gap we are seeing is
with those 18-49 years who are non-dependents. Where do they go? Who
helps them? Maybe they are on AISH or income support. Maybe they are
just a low-income earner at this point trying to start their career.
That’s the piece we are missing in our community.”
Another gap, she says, is a lack dedicated housing units in Lethbridge
for those on income support with serious physical challenges.
“Right now, we have an ask into the province for 60 accessible units
that would be affordable,” says James. “Most of our units were
built in the late 1970s or early 1980s when handicap accessibility was
not a thing. So we don’t have doorways wide enough. We don’t have
turning radiuses for wheelchairs in bathrooms. We have requested 60
custom-built units so we can actually put in folks that require that
accessibility, regardless of their age. We have partially accessible
units, but no fully accessible units.”
Lethbridge is acknowledged as an area of higher need for social
housing of all sorts, says James, and she hopes the province will be
responsive to that need.
“In Lethbridge we do have a greater number of seniors than the
Alberta average, and we also have a lower household income than the
Alberta average,” she says.
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