The federal government has signed the first of what it hopes will be 13 funding agreements for a new rent supplement for low-income households.
The $1.46-billion joint funding deal with Ontario announced Thursday – split 50-50 by the federal and provincial treasuries – will help the province roll out the Canada Housing Benefit next spring as part of an expansion of an existing provincial program, and cover spending over eight years.
The benefit will be tied to a person, rather than a social housing unit, meaning a tenant won't lose the supplement if they move.
That way, they can use it to help pay rent in a private unit, rather than having to wait for a spot in social housing to open up.
In Ontario, the money will go to families who are already on, or eligible to join, wait lists for social housing units, as well as those already living in community housing.
How many people are going to benefit from the money each year has yet to be determined, and would be made public once a province like Ontario completes its plan for the benefit. Neither the text of the agreement nor a year-by-year breakdown of spending by each jurisdiction is available.
The Trudeau Liberals plan to sign similar deals with each province and territory, tailored to each jurisdiction's needs and various programs.
That would ensure the federal money doesn't reduce the provincial value of other benefits, such as child-care subsidies, and leave families with less.
The unique design of each funding deal, as well as efforts to avoid ripple effects into other benefits, have been among the reasons why negotiations on the deals have taken as long as they have. Federal officials are aiming to close all the deals by April 2020.
The portable housing benefit is budgeted at $4 billion over 10 years, but the plan requires provinces and territories to pick up half the costs.
Federal spending plans peg the average subsidy at $3,000 a year, but Parliament's spending watchdog has warned the amount falls short of helping the most financially stretched households. He also said it could create pressure to increase rents in subsidized housing.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., which oversees the federal housing strategy, says funding amounts will vary between provinces and territories based on the groups of people who are being targeted for the benefit and their level of need.
In Ontario, the benefit is supposed to target survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, people who are or at risk of being homeless, Indigenous people, seniors and people with disabilities.