Housing the Homeless in Manitoba: What’s the Plan?

The National Conference on Ending Homelessness was held in Winnipeg October 25-27.

Minister Scott Fielding joined Mayor Bowman and Adam Vaughan, the federal government’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development, to share with delegates what their governments are doing about homelessness.  While those in attendance were encouraged to hear that the federal government will soon release its housing strategy, there was less optimism about the role the Province of Manitoba will play.  Provincial governments have a central role in ensuring housing is available for low-income individuals and families.

Minister Fielding made no commitments.

So what exactly is his government doing to address homelessness?

As described in this article by Right to Housing Coalition Chair, Kirsten Bernas, the Province of Manitoba is on the path to reverse gains made in social housing in recent years.

And a recent KPMG Manitoba Fiscal Policy Review Report: Business Case Social Housing, lays out what we can expect from the Manitoba Government moving forward.  It makes a case for selling the supply of social housing, in spite of the evidence that shows privatization of social housing has led to increased homelessness.

Nonetheless, The Pallister government’s actions to date demonstrate a complete lack of regard for the evidence.  For example:

  • In May 2017 the Manitoba government declined funding for 10 emergency shelter beds for homeless women at Red Road Lodge.
  • In June 2017, the Manitoba government increased rental costs for some low-income earners living Manitoba Housing. This could see tenants paying an extra $720 a year.
    • Manitoba Housing has also eliminated choice of location from the application process.
  • In July 2017 Manitoba cut the Rent Assist benefit for over 7,000 families, reducing benefits by up to $1200 a year for some families.
  • In July 2017 the Manitoba government announces the sale of a multi-unit public housing complex at 185 Smith street. Privatization plans begin.
  • In August 2017 the Pallister government cancelled the Community Housing Improvement Initiative.  This $510,000 program distributed more that 200 grant in the last two years, contributing to the revitalization of low-income neighbourhoods.
  • On November 1st 2017, the Pallister government increased rents in public housing from 25% of household income to 28% of income. People living in public housing who already struggle to get by will need to make up the difference. That often means dipping into food budgets, greater reliance on charity, and fewer choices.

These actions give us an indication of the value the Pallister government places on ensuring that all Manitoban’s have a decent place to live.  And if the Manitoba government proceeds with recommendations put forward in the KPMG report on Social Housing, we anticipate that things are about to get far worse.