The end of St. Albert’s rental assistance program has been held at bay after councillors agreed on Monday to allocate funding of more than $100,000 toward the program.
The windfall comes at the expense of the Basement Suites Grant program, which had 47 names on its waitlist. However, city staff said the rental assistance program was the most pressing affordable housing need as it was in imminent danger of ending.
In total, the rental assistance program will receive a combined $105,264 from three sources: $25,000 from a security deposit for the Big Lake Pointe housing project; $19,272 from funds that were meant for administrative costs of managing a provincial grant; and $60,992 from the Basement Suite Grant program.
Lory Scott, the affordable housing liaison for the city, said the rental assistance program was at risk of ending in the next six to eight months if additional funding was not found. The program provides temporary rental subsidies to people for a six- to 12-month term.
“(This is) the highest emerging need,” Scott said.
Although the motion ultimately received support from all councillors, Coun. Cathy Heron said she struggled with her decision. She pointed to the defunding of the Basement Suites Grant program as one regrettable aspect, noting the need for affordable housing in the city is great.
Scott said despite the 47-person waitlist for the Basement Suites Grant program, it could take up to four months for one homeowner to be approved for the grant. The funding in that program could have funded four Basement Suite grants if it hadn’t been re-allocated.
By comparison, an injection of funding into the rental assistance program would help 30 or more families, city staff said.
Coun. Tim Osborne called the re-allocation “a wise investment of dollars.”
“(It) will keep people from reaching a higher level of crisis,” he said.
“The rental assistance program really is one of the best tools, I think, in terms of supporting a family that may be going through a difficult time.”
The rental assistance program has been supported in the past by money the city received between 2007 and 2010 from the provincial government, which gave $5.4 million to St. Albert for affordable housing initiatives. However, Scott said the program would see a funding shortfall as soon as 2018.
Over the past nine years, the rental assistance program has provided 342 households with a temporary subsidy.
The re-allocated funds approved by council on Monday will temporarily extend the program’s life for another eight to 12 months.
City staff said they are advocating for continued funding from federal and provincial sources but noted the Capital Region Housing Corporation’s wait list for affordable housing and provincial rent subsidies has topped 5,000 people, meaning St. Albert’s request for funding may not rank high enough against other regional demands.