NWT breathes life into old assistance program as renters struggle
A little-known, little-used rental assistance program in the North is getting some extra attention as tenants look for help during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Transitional Rent Supplement Program, known as TRSP, was supposed to be scrapped at the end of March. Now, its life is being prolonged to help people in the territory pay their rent.
This week, the NWT Housing Corporation announced changes to make the application process easier. TRSP provides $100 to $500 each month in rental relief until a new federally backed program, the Canadian Housing Benefit, opens this September.
TRSP was originally designed to help people in market housing whose households brought in less than $70,000 a year or who had to put more than 30 percent of their income toward rent.
In its 2015 Northern Housing Report, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) noted only 68 people had used TRSP’s help that year.
Three years into the program, then-housing minister Robert C McLeod told the CBC that, of $1 million earmarked for the program, only $100,000 had been used.
Between 2012 and 2015, CMHC said a total of 158 people accessed the program.
That, of course, was before a pandemic struck. A month into overtime on its existence, TRSP is being drafted in to plug urgent gaps.
The NWT Housing Corporation said TRSP would now stick around until the end of August. At the same time, old requirements have been done away with.
For example, if you need TRSP’s help, you no longer have to take the housing corporation’s “financial counselling” course, known as Step.
Step is a four-module course, each lasting for six and a half hours of classroom learning. Modules include counselling and education designed to help people gain the skills to be successful homeowners.
Renters accessing TRSP were required to take two budgeting modules over two days. With physical distancing in place, that portion of the program has been waived.
Paulie Chinna, the housing minister, acknowledged the budgeting courses were at times almost a hindrance rather than a help. Residents who already didn’t have much money – that’s why they needed TRSP – often had to take two days off work to attend.
“That was almost a barrier, but it was education for the client through the housing corporation,” Chinna told Cabin Radio this week.
“It was education for the client’s benefit, and to be able to access the program and get people into homeownership.”
Originally, TRSP was designed to allow 150 participants each year. How exactly the new Canada Housing Benefit will look in the Northwest Territories has yet to be announced.
Chinna said the housing corporation and CMHC, the federal agency, are currently adapting the new program to suit the particular needs of northerners.
Meanwhile, the minister says she’ll be closely watching how many people the rejuvenated TRSP helps in the interim.
“I am really looking to see what the reaction of the general public will be,” she said. “I’m curious to see how many applicants we are going to be receiving.”
One perceived downfall of TRSP in its old guise was the length a renter could stay on the program. After two years, your access to the program ran out.
Chinna says her department will look at how to make this kind of rent assistance more accommodating.
“We will have to look at what is going to be expected for the review of those applications,” she said.
“We could be dealing with nurses, we could be dealing with people who are working shift work, and I want to make sure that we don’t make this application process difficult.
“I want to make sure that it’s easily accessible, and it’s easy reporting.”