Council’s Emergency and Community Services Committee acted quickly today to implement stop-gap funding to restore and continue Hamilton’s Housing Stability Benefit.
Councillor Sam Merulla walked on a motion to increase funding to the benefit, which is facing a $2.5-million deficit until end of the funds fiscal year on March 31, 2017.
The Housing Stability Benefit is designed to assist people to remain in housing by providing funds for utility and rent arrears. For recipients of Ontario Works (welfare) or the Ontario Disability Support Program, the program also funds appliances, moving costs, and mattresses, as well as bed bug preparation and prevention.
The $5.7-million budgeted fund has experienced an increase in demand this year due to raising utility costs causing arrears, the increase cost of rent in Hamilton, and mattresses for ODSP recipients due to bed bugs.
Council only learned of the deficit two weeks ago, and the General Manager of Emergency and Community Services had to cut the majority of fund benefits to deal with the deficit.
Councillors heard delegations from four individuals on the importance of the fund.
Among the delegations, Natasha Findlya-Clairmont was particularly powerful. She is facing precarious housing and requires access to the Housing Stability Fund to afford last month’s rent on new housing. Her current housing is unsafe, and without the HSB, she will be unable to afford to move. Her current housing lacks heating and she is forced to use electrical plugin space heaters, and there are other serious issues.
She has found a residence to move into for January, but cannot move without the HSB, because she needs the benefit to replace items due to bed bug infestations.
(A Planning and Economic Development – the department responsible for Hamilton’s Housing By-Law Enforcement – manager spoke with her after the meeting to offer assistance)
Merulla spoke about the HSB being another example of downloading, and that once again Hamilton City Council – and Hamiltonians – are stepping in to prevent suffering from provincial cuts.
Councillor Terry Whitehead spoke about the broken taxation policies that force this social assistance expense onto the property tax instead of income tax.
In the end, Councillors voted unanimously to use any surplus in the Emergency and Community Services, and then the Tax Stabilization Reserve to reinstate the program until March 31, 2017.
The vote needs to be ratified at City Council on Wednesday.
Full video of Council’s debate today is available on The Public Record’s Youtube Page: https://youtu.be/GmG7cObxEyU