Ontario’s Shift towards Portable Housing Benefits
While portable housing benefits have regularly been used to support housing access in Europe, they have not been commonly or widely implemented in Canada. That may begin to change, as the Ontario government has recently announced their intention to develop a framework for a portable housing benefit. Initially announced as a component of the Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy, recent amendments to the Housing Services Act introduced legislation that will allow for alternate forms of financial assistance beyond the current rent-geared-to-income (RGI) system.
Ontario’s current housing assistance system is made up of a patchwork of different programs through which low-income individuals receive subsidies that are often tied to a specific unit. A portable housing benefit, on the other hand, would be linked directly to the individual which would allow recipients to exercise more choice and flexibility when deciding where to live. For a more detailed analysis on portable housing benefits and their potential use in Ontario, we encourage you to read the Maytree Foundation’s recent policy brief on the subject.
The Ontario government is expected to engage in consultations to inform the development of the portable housing benefit framework over the coming months, but they have also already started to test the use of these benefits for specific populations. As per a commitment made in Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy Update, the government recently launched a Pilot to test the use of portable housing benefits for survivors of domestic violence. This Pilot, which is cost shared between the federal and provincial governments, will be implemented over two years in 22 communities, and it is expected to provide ongoing support for approximately 1000 individuals each year. Outcome data is not yet available, but the Province has stated that they intend to use the results of the Pilot to enhance and extend the program for other communities.
The concept of portable housing benefits also appears to have caught the attention of the Federal Government. Many housing advocates recommended the use of these benefits in the recent “Let’s Talk Housing” Consultation, and the government may consider incorporating them into their forthcoming National Housing Strategy.
ONPHA is supportive of exploring and using a range of options to achieve housing affordability. However, we believe that a portable benefit framework that is not accompanied by policy initiatives aimed at increasing affordable rental stock could put additional pressure on rental markets and contribute to rent escalation. Read more about our position on needing both supply and demand side initiatives in our publication Making Ends Meet: Opportunities and Challenges of Rental Assistance Programs.
We will continue to monitor developments related to portable housing benefits at both the provincial and federal level, and will communicate any updates to our membership as they are available.