Rent subsidy program to help working poor

The Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is offering a new rent supplement program meant to help the large number of working poor in the territory.

People who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, but who earn too much money to qualify for public housing can apply for the supplement.

Housing minister Robert McLeod says about 600 people in Yellowknife alone may be eligible.

“Unfortunately we do have some people who work very hard to work for a living, but they're the ones that sometimes fall through the cracks and we're hoping with this program we're able to assist them,” McLeod says.

The supplement will provide up to 500 dollars a month for up to two years.

The Housing Corporation will take applications starting September first.

Christine Barker works full time, but in the past she’s put more than half of her wages into housing.

"One cheque would go to rent and the other cheque would go to child care and I didn't know how we were gonna eat,” Barker said.

Barker has just moved into public housing, but McLeod said that's not possible for hundreds of other people in the Northwest Territories.

"They make too much maybe to qualify for public housing, so they're kind of stuck in the middle and we see this as a program that'll kind of help them to the next step,” he said.

The supplement goes to landlords, not tenants, and that worries Julie Green at the YWCA.

"There is a concern that the private landlords will increase their rents, because they can, because there's a monopoly, and that families will not see the full benefit,” Green said.

The minister said the Housing Corporation will re-assess the program in a year.

Meantime in Yukon, the opposition New Democrats have called for action to prevent rental units being converted to condominiums.

They said developers are limiting options in the already tight rental market in Whitehorse. Low cost rental units in the Sternwheeler complex are being converted to condominiums over the next year.

MLA and NDP housing critic Kate White said renters who can't afford the 270 thousand dollar price will have a hard time finding housing.

“There's not actually 50 family homes available for rent and certainly not within that cost demographic,” she said.

White wants the number of condo conversions regulated.

“In other jurisdictions in Canada, there are laws and regulations in place that say if the rental availability is very low, that there's got to be protection in place for tenants,” she said.

In some cities like Waterloo, Ontario, condo conversions aren’t allowed if the vacancy rate is less than three per cent.

Senior Whitehorse city planner Kinden Kosick said the city might consider this kind of legislation .

“We haven't had a chance to look at some of the legal implications or any of the jurisdictional issues yet. We wouldn't be against taking a deeper look in the future,” Kosick said.