The NB housing assistance program has been extended to people living alone
Single New Brunswickers are now eligible for a rental assistance program.
The Canada-New Brunswick Housing Benefit was originally available to families with combined incomes between $14,200 and $38,000 per year before tax. In December 2021, it expanded to include people with children under the age of 19 renting and earning between $12,500 and $50,000.
The latest expansion means about 10,000 more New Brunswickers are now eligible for the benefit, which ranges from $300 to $475 a month, according to a Department for Social Development statement Wednesday.
Social Development Secretary Dorothy Shephard explained in the press release that expanding the scheme ensures people don’t have to choose between paying the rent or putting food on the table.
Julia Woodhall-Melnik, Canada Research Chair in Resilient Communities and associate professor at the University of New Brunswick at Saint John, said the recent change is a step in the right direction.
But she said the benefit leaves out many people on the affordable housing waitlist who don’t work, which is one of the program’s eligibility requirements.
“As a result, many of them are living with disabilities or are retired or on welfare,” Woodhall-Melnik said. “The proportion of people we’ve selected from the waiting list who are working is actually smaller than those who aren’t.”
The benefit, which will cost about $98.3 million over the next seven years, will be split equally between the federal and provincial governments.
Robert Duguay, a spokesman for the Department of Social Development, told CBC News in an email that all applications that meet the criteria will be accepted until the benefit is fully committed. He said the benefit hasn’t expired yet.
He said the program has the capacity to help more people, so expanding the eligibility “will allow us to maximize the impact of this program.”
The program operates on a first-come, first-served basis, Duguay wrote.
According to the press release, as of Jan. 31, 1,255 households were eligible for the scheme, which has benefited around 4,400 people.
It says the service is delivered directly to the household and not to the dwelling unit or landlord. People who are eligible for the benefit will receive assistance for three years, according to a previous announcement, and the benefit will go with them if they move elsewhere in the province.
No replacement for the rent cover
Woodhall-Melnik said three years for a short-term benefit is “pretty substantial,” but she said it ignores the fact that there are social, structural, physical and health barriers people face when it comes to receiving income .
“Are people going to see significant income increases in three years? Probably not,” she said. “In three years, will our housing market be less constrained and more affordable? I really, really hope so. But probably not. So my question is what is left at the end of it?”
She said she is working on a research study that will track mental health and other outcomes for people moving into affordable housing or people receiving the benefit. She hopes more information about how the benefit has helped families will become available in the coming months.
Woodhall-Melnik said she would like the government to make “extremely sensible investments” in affordable, accessible housing. She said this could include creating a publicly funded construction team to build public assets.
Woodhall-Melnik said the benefit extension does not replace the rent cap that expired at the end of 2022 because it does not protect a large proportion of the more than 8,000 households on the affordable housing waitlist.
“Once again, it is this very punitive approach to welfare that we have seen for years that reinforces this belief that unless we make an economic contribution to society, we are not worthy of support.”