Athabasca MLA Buckley Belanger is demanding the Saskatchewan Party government immediately restore the rental housing supplement, calling the decision to change the subsidy not well thought out.

New North is looking for families who use the program to share their stories on how the subsidy is helping lower their housing costs, as it is trying to compile a report for the Ministry of Social Services to reconsider cutting for northern families.

“They did not take into account the impact on northern families when they made this decision,” Belanger said.

The program will no longer be accepting new clients on June 30, as the provincial government is doing away with it. Ottawa is expected to announce the creation of the National Housing Strategy.

New North CEO Matt Heley raised concerns that northern workers accepting seasonal employment could be bumped from the program altogether. Belanger says the government has created disincentive to work out of fear of being cut from the subsidy.

“When you put in programs that disincentive like this, saying if you get a job, then you can never come back to this program, even though it may be a seasonal job. Wouldn’t that prompt people out of fear of losing their rental supplement not to look for work for three or four months out of the year? I think it will,” Belanger said.

“We see the impact being on seasonal workers. We see the impact being on people who may want to move to a different home. We see the impact on people with extenuating circumstances.”

The supplement provides between $84 and $310 per month and is designed to low-to-middle income families.

Social Services Minister Paul Merriman says in scrapping the program, the decision was made based off urban housing rental prices and availability, saying rent in Regina and Saskatoon is lower with vacancy being higher. Merriman could not commit to an extension, suggesting the government will look at the uniqueness of the north. Yet, Merriman says seasonal workers will be taken into consideration.

“This program is going to have an impact on some of our clients,” said Merriman. “The new north — we want to make sure it’s minimal on clients coming in, and if they are being affected by seasonal work, that we would take that into consideration.”

(PHOTO: Doyle Vermette and Buckley Belanger pictured in 2012. Photo courtesy Saskatchewan New Democratic Party, Facebook.)