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Brian Dauphinee is being renovicted from his $637-a-month Halifax studio apartment at the end of August, and is about to anxiously wade into the city’s increasingly expensive rental market.

But the 69-year-old, who lives on a pension, will do so without the help of a rent supplement. He’s one of hundreds of people who have been denied financial aid in recent months under a change made to the joint provincial-federal program.

“I was holding on hope that something might come through, and it certainly didn’t. So they wasted my time,” Dauphinee said. “And then all of the rents in the area here are sky high, they just seemed to all of a sudden magically start to double and triple.”

In late January, the province quietly changed the eligibility rules for the Canada-Nova Scotia Targeted Housing Benefit, a supplement designed to help low-income people pay for housing. In order to qualify, a person must now be spending at least 50 per cent of their pre-tax income on housing, up from 30 per cent.

Numbers provided recently to CBC News by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing show that since the change, 324 applicants have been denied for not meeting the new 50 per cent threshold.

The province said it is offering more rent supplements than in previous years. But the new restrictions mean some applicants who would have qualified under the old rules are now out of luck.

Housing advocates argue the new thresholds don’t recognize the reality of skyrocketing rents, and that it’s no longer just the lowest-income people who can’t afford somewhere to live.

In April, Housing Minister John Lohr told CBC News the change was made for budgetary reasons.

“We could see that the demand for the program was exceeding what the budget would offer,” Lohr said. “So, we felt the need to prioritize … this to those most in need, and that’s why that decision was made.”

A spokesperson for the department said in a statement that the Houston government has put an additional $21.6 million in this fiscal year’s budget toward at least 1,000 new rent supplements.

“This year the province will provide 8,000 rent supplements, which is 1,000 more than the previous year and 3,000 more than 2021,” spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said.

Denied support

Tara Kinch, the community support and outreach manager at Chebucto Connections in the Halifax community of Spryfield, works with low-income clients to complete and submit their rent supplement applications.

She said she has seen more people denied support since the changes, and wait-times have risen to new levels.

She said the changes mean only the lowest-income people are now eligible, but they aren’t the only ones who need the help.

“It’s a much wider population that’s struggling with housing security,” she said. “We’re looking at people that have full-time jobs, and some working multiple jobs, that are housing insecure or are trying to access the shelter system or living in their cars. So it’s not just people on income assistance or it’s not just seniors.”

Rural areas not immune

The new 50 per cent threshold isn’t calculated based on an applicant’s actual rent, but is based on the CMHC average market rent for the area where they live.

For Halifax, the average market rent used in the calculation is $1,032 for a one-bedroom unit, according to figures provided by the Housing Department.

But housing sector workers say the numbers used by the province don’t reflect what someone hunting for an apartment now will have to pay. For example, in Cumberland County, the number is just $707.

“We have many clients that are looking for apartments and the one bedrooms are $1,100, plus heat and lights,” said Aiden Kivisto, the manager of community development with the YMCA of Cumberland.

“There’s this misnomer that if you’re living in a smaller community that the rents are going to be cheaper, but that’s just not the case. That’s just not what we’re seeing here.”

As a way to counter Nova Scotia’s housing crisis, the province has been funding the construction of more low-cost rentals. But the total number hasn’t been publicly available until now. The CBC’s Nicola Seguin explains.

Kivisto said based on the market rent figure used, someone in his area would have to be living in deep poverty to qualify for the supplement. Those who aren’t have few options.

Kivisto and Kinch both said the best way to help people afford rent and stay housed is to build more non-market housing that can have rent geared to income.

“The rental subsidy, it’s a good interim measure, but it’s not a solution to our housing crisis,” Kinch said. “We need all levels of government to be building more affordable housing for people so that they can have a safe, stable place to live and not have a fear of being evicted or not being able to afford their rent.”


Story by: CBC News