How can governments maintain the scarcity of housing, keep renters in crisis, and subsidize people who don’t need subsidies with one simple program?
The answer? Spend $750 million on rent supplements over the last 7 years. According to research supplied by NDP MLA Dave Eby, the BC government has spent almost $750 million on rent supplements since 2009.
By my calculation, $750 million would be enough to build 3,750 units of social housing on city-owned land. That many units could wipe out homelessness in the Lower Mainland and beyond.
The BC government’s rent supplement programs include SAFER for seniors, Rental Assistance Program for low-income people with children and a program to prevent homelessness that can only be accessed through some non-profit groups that have access to the funds. However, they don’t advertise it so very few people in need know how to get the supplement.
US studies have shown that rent supplement programs are more expensive in the long run than building social housing, and serve to increase rents for all low-income renters, even those who don’t get the supplements. Meanwhile, landlords who are rich enough to rent out living spaces get extra money from the government.
$750 million could provide a lasting benefit and asset to people who need housing. But when it’s wasted on rent supplements that go only to private landlords there is no lasting public benefit.