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Rental assistance program gets funding for one more year

Officials wonder what will happen when money runs out

By: Cory Hare

  |  Posted: Saturday, Oct 30, 2010 06:00 am

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St. Albert’s rental assistance program got a funding boost from the United Way this week but the short-term program still relies heavily on provincial funding that will run out next year.

The United Way announced this week that it would once again provide $50,000 to pay for a co-ordinator to administer the program, which distributes provincial dollars to working families who struggle to pay their rent. The program is administered by St. Albert Parents’ Place.

The United Way has provided the grant in each of the program’s three years because it sees value in helping people stay in their home communities, said Allan Undheim of the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.

“People have a desire to stay in that community,” Undheim said. “Sometimes the cost of housing is prohibitive and so this is an opportunity to help those remain in the community.”

Uncertain future

The program was established in 2008 when the province provided St. Albert with $2.3 million for affordable housing. City council used $265,000 of that money to create the rental assistance program. The program received $315,000 from council for its second year and has been allocated $500,000 for its third and final year.

The program provides up to $400 a month for seniors or individuals or up to $550 a month for families. To be eligible, people must be working and paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

Recipients are restricted to one year on the program, during which time they’re expected to work with an outreach worker on an exit strategy, which can include upgrading education, seeking better employment or moving to less costly accommodation, said Sandy Biener, executive director of Parents’ Place.

She feels the program is addressing a serious need that’s largely hidden.

“A lot of people just aren’t aware that there are families out there struggling on $18,000 a year,” she said.

The program has had a total of 97 clients in its first two years. Of the 48 clients currently involved, 27 are single parents, 11 are seniors, seven are families and three are individuals.

Program participants tend to be natives of St. Albert who don’t want to leave because their extended families and support networks are here, Biener said. Many of them are educated and have good jobs but struggle under the weight of high costs for rent and child care, she said.

With the provincial dollars set to run out next year, Biener is hoping that a new affordable housing complex proposed for St. Albert gets the go-ahead.

“Otherwise, if things don’t improve, [our clients] just won’t be able to stay here,” Biener said.

The St. Albert Housing Society has applied for a provincial grant so it can build a new apartment complex in North Ridge that would provide 96 affordable housing units.

After city council approved a controversial affordable housing development in Akinsdale in September, Mayor Nolan Crouse said the province is watching St. Albert closely to see if the city “has the balls” to deliver affordable housing. He said that future funding decisions will likely be influenced by council’s decisions.

Since the election, Crouse has speculated how committed St. Albert residents are to affordable housing, given that they ousted two incumbents and narrowly kept two others.


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