By Tim Kalinowski on December 15, 2020.
City council voted 6-3 to provide up to $500,000 in additional one-time funding drawn from City reserves to help those struggling to pay their rent in the community in 2021.
Deputy Mayor Ron Miyashiro proposed providing the $500,000 in one-time assistance to top up the City’s current commitment of $252,000 per year for the Housing Rent Supplement Program.
Miyashiro said given recent layoffs due to COVID-19, which disproportionately impacts the community’s lowest income earners in the city, and due to the ongoing economic challenges facing the community which are expected to continue into 2021, that a one-time top-up was needed to help those struggling to pay rent.
“We’re a group around the horseshoe (in council chambers) that is pretty privileged compared to a lot of people in our community,” he stated. “We need to look at what people other than us might need. We need to look at how the people who are barely getting by need support so they can actually get by. So they can strive and they can succeed, rather than just exist. There is no support right now from the federal government and the provincial government for rent subsidies for the purpose this is for.
“If we help people with rent,” Miyashiro added, “they are going to be able to eat, and they are going to be able to buy clothes, and they are going to be able to get things for their kids. It’s not a matter of, ‘they can go to this agency or that agency’ — this gives them a hand up. We need to recognize at city council that this is a really good use of money. This is a great use for us to bring people up.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said there was also another side of this to consider: by giving more rent support to people in the community, council will also be indirectly helping property owners in Lethbridge.
“We have high rates of poverty in our city,” acknowledged Spearman. “We have people who are struggling to pay their rent. I think housing is one of the basic things, and we need to make sure people are supported. We recognize also the landlords are being challenged. There are people who have invested. They will struggle to pay their mortgages if their renters can’t pay their rent. Any assistance would be welcome.”
Councillors Blaine Hyggen, Joe Mauro and Ryan Parker voted against topping up the City’s Housing Rent Supplement Program. All three felt housing was a federal and provincial jurisdiction, and the City should not be using its reserves in those areas.
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