Ellie lives with degenerative Multiple Sclerosis. She requires a walker to get around. She is a single mother who does her best to manage her MS on a very tight budget. Currently, she spends 79% of her income on rent. After the bills are paid, this leaves her with $44 to buy food for the month. When the winter months are over, her energy supplement of $150 will be gone, and her rent will take 85% of her income.
Ellie is only one of the many people who have contacted David Coon’s constituency office over the past year and a half facing similar housing issues. Many constituents have been on the NB Housing list for years. One thing has become painfully clear; there is not enough affordable housing to meet the need. The 2014 homelessness report card by the Community Action Group on Homelessness (CAGH) shows that 1,270 people were on the housing list for affordable housing in New Brunswick, and that no affordable housing units were added in 2014 or 2015.
In Ellie’s case, she needs her community and local amenities to function daily. For a whole host of reasons, her current apartment works for her and her disability. Her doctor is nearby, she can walk to the supermarket, she is close to emergency facilities, her apartment is wheelchair accessible, and her landlord is very supportive. She is at home in her current location. It would be nearly impossible to replicate that. So her request when she came to David’s office was simple: could her unit become subsidized?
After a little research, we were hopeful. There is a program that would do exactly that: the Portable Rent Supplement (PRS) for people with disabilities. In these cases, it is the person that is subsidized, not the unit. So, wherever the person lives, their apartment could be subsidized. Unfortunately for Ellie, there were only fourteen such PRS available in the Greater Fredericton area, and all fourteen were taken up. She was stuck with only one option: wait for a wheelchair accessible affordable unit to become available and move. She thought it over and declined. She would suffer the hardship of having to go without; her home was too important for her to give up.
Ellie is in many ways an exception. Many in her situation opt to buy food over rent, and end up facing eviction because of unpaid rent. Homelessness is an ever-imminent threat in their lives. Once evicted, it becomes even more difficult to find housing. A large deposit is required for a new apartment, many evicted tenants end up on an unofficial blacklist that dissuades future landlords from renting to them, money is owed to previous landlords, moving costs can be formidable. Moreover, if you are evicted from a subsidized or NB Housing unit, you cannot get back on the NB Housing list until all unpaid rent and any damages are paid off.
There is a simple solution to prevent many of these issues; convert more of the existing housing stock into subsidized units.
Fortunately for Ellie, the budget this year does exactly that. The government has increased the PRS program by thirty units. Now Ellie stands a chance of getting what she needs.
Imagine if this were the standard way in which people could access affordable housing. As long as certain criteria are met, a person could have their rent supplemented by NB Housing wherever they lived. No need to build new housing. No need to pack up and move, with all the associated costs. Stability and security is one of the goals of the Housing First movement, introduced to Fredericton through CAGH. PRS doesn’t just provide affordable housing, it fosters the kind of security, stability and continuity that allows individuals to improve their lives.
David’s Constituency Office is doing its best to make sure Ellie can access one of the new PRS. When the House resumes, David will push for the PRS program to be further expanded, to include those without disabilities, and for more units and homes to be added to the affordable housing stock. Please support him in these efforts by contacting Cathy Rogers, Minister of Social Development.
Ellie’s name was changed to protect her privacy.