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Feds urged to keep promise on subsidies

By Eric MacKenzie



Despite “encouraging signals” from the federal Liberals, thousands of co-op housing residents in B.C. are anxiously waiting to see if measures are introduced in Tuesday’s budget to deal with decades-old rental subsidies that are expiring.

Approximately 4,000 low-income co-op households in the province — mostly those with single-parent families, individuals with disabilities or elderly people on limited or fixed incomes — receive a federal subsidy to cut costs to about 30% of income.

The arrangements have “typically” been in place for 35 years, explained Thom Armstrong, executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC. Some have already expired, leading to large increases. But the expirations reach their peak in 2017, which would create a “catastrophic outcome.”

“We’ve been calling on the federal government for many years now to come to some kind of an arrangement to continue those subsidies and keep those people in their homes,” said Armstrong.

“You can imagine people whose average income may be $20,000 a year are going to have trouble finding accommodation anywhere in this market.”

Armstrong said that since the agreements were drawn up decades ago, housing has transitioned from being a federal matter to a provincial one, making for “political football” as to how to approach the subsidies. And even if initiatives to continue subsidies are announced Tuesday, a new system to implement them would need to be developed that involves both levels of government.

The Liberals have pledged to “renew current co-operative agreements,” and Armstrong said indications from B.C. cabinet members suggest that will be reflected in the budget.

“We’re very, very hopeful, but also very anxious,” said Armstrong. “A promise is one thing, delivering on it is another.

“We hope (Tuesday) will finally be the day that we can tell our members that their worst fears will not be realized.”