Housing groups brace for funding loss

Haida Gwaii’s non-profit housing groups are bracing for the end of a key federal subsidy.

Haida Gwaii’s non-profit housing groups are bracing for the end of a key federal subsidy.

“It’s happening all over B.C.,” says Greg Martin, mayor the Village of Queen Charlotte.

“It looks grim.”

For decades, federal “operating agreements” have helped social housing providers offer lower rents to people living on low incomes.

Most of the agreements are tied to 35-year mortgages that were offered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Today, many of those mortgages are nearly paid.

When they are, housing providers will be mortgage-free, but they will also lose their federal subsidy.

Mayor Martin said the change will affect 14 units in Queen Charlotte in the next few years homes run by the Queen Charlotte Heritage Housing Society, the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, and the M’akola Group of Societies.

At the same time, another three units in Queen Charlotte happen to be losing a different source of revenue this fall they are subsidized by rental income from Northern Health, which is moving offices once the new hospital opens in October.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Martin.

Late last month, a regional manager from BC Housing met with the islands housing providers to talk about their options after the federal subsidies expire.

Jack Thorgeirsson, chair of the Masset Heritage Housing Society, said he is feeling more optimistic after the meeting.

Masset Heritage House has six one-bedroom units, and like the Queen Charlotte Heritage House, it will lose its federal subsidy five years from now, when its mortgage is paid.

Both groups will have to figure out how they can pay their other costs property taxes, utilities, insurance, maintenance and repairs and still offer rents geared to income.

Options include raising rents, offering more units at market rate, expanding or buying new buildings to add revenue, energy-saving retrofits, offering non-residential rentals, or refinancing the mortgage.

Once they are no longer eligible for the existing federal subsidy, some tenants will be able to apply for other rental supports that come in the form of a rebate.

Across the province, BC Housing says federal subsidies will expire for 30,000 units by 2033. Half the current renters are seniors, and two-fifths are families.

Nathan Cullen, the NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, says it may surprise people given the headlines about high housing prices in the Lower Mainland, but there is a real affordable housing issue on Haida Gwaii.

“It’s real, and the feds keep pulling back,” said Cullen, noting that Canada is the only developed country without an affordable housing strategy, and that the CMHC has been largely winding down its social housing program since 1993.

“That is a promise that Mr. Trudeau made in the last campaign to get back involved but it’s been very much in fits and starts,” he said.

“We need the federal government to resume its role as someone who cares about people having a decent shelter as a basic human right.”