Gimme (Stable) Shelter: Housing Stability Supplement
by Caitlin Wright, TAPS Income Assistance Legal Advocate
Starting March 1, 2023, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction (referred to here as simply “the Ministry”) rolled out a new supplement called the Housing Stability Supplement (HSS), available to clients currently receiving income, hardship, Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB), or Persons With Disabilities (PWD) assistance benefits.
On the next page, the supplement is discussed in detail. But first, it would be disingenuous to ignore the current reality of trying to maintain housing while surviving on Ministry assistance in BC. A new supplement to temporarily help with housing costs in some narrow and specific ways does not address the chronic unaffordability challenges faced by Ministry clients. At TAPS, we see escalating crisis situations repeating themselves month after month: the ability for folks relying on social assistance to pay rent in addition to food and other necessities is deeply precarious and is placing people in increasingly desperate situations. Until we see meaningful systemic change – including substantial rate increases, a complete overhaul of the PWD application process, removal of barriers like spousal dependency and non-exempt and deductible income, and continued partition of support and shelter allowances that prevent unhoused Ministry clients from accessing their full benefit – stop-gap measures like this new supplement will do little to ensure housing stability for some of the most vulnerable people in the province.
What is the new supplement for?
The Housing Stability Supplement (HSS), may be used to assist Ministry clients maintain their housing in situations where there is a temporary absence of a member of the family unit from the residence (for example, if someone is staying at a special care facility, in hospital, or temporarily incarcerated.) Typically, if the size of the family unit decreases, so too does the amount of monthly assistance that it is eligible for, which would make it even more difficult to maintain housing and shelter costs. In some limited situations, the Ministry may consider a family unit of one person to be eligible for the supplement. For example, if you a single person becomes temporarily incarcerated or if someone's spouse passes away thus making them a single person, the Ministry may consider them eligible for the HSS if it is needed to maintain stable housing.
How much could a person receive? How long could they receive it for?
The amount a family unit could receive will depend on a few factors. The maximum supplement amount will be equal to one month of assistance for a family unit (which includes both the shelter and support amounts.)
The Ministry will make the following calculations and grant the lesser of the two amounts:
the difference between a family’s actual shelter costs and the shelter allowance they would be entitled to based on the change in circumstances (absence of family unit member), orthe difference between the assistance (support and shelter amount) the family unit was eligible for prior to the change in circumstances (temporary absence or death of unit member) and the assistance (support, shelter or applicable comforts allowance) they are entitled to based on the change in circumstances.
The HSS may be available for up to 3 consecutive months to eligible family units. A 3-month extension may be considered if the Ministry believes there to be “extenuating circumstances” (forces outside of the family unit’s control): for example, if a family member at a special care facility is scheduled for discharge within the 4th month of their absence. If you believe you may be eligible for the extension, it’s best to provide as much relevant and timely information to the Ministry as possible. The maximum number of consecutive months to receive the HSS is 6 months.
What about the removal of children?
If children are being cared for under the Child, Family, and Community Service Act, including under an interim order or temporary custody order or agreement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) should notify the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. While their support allowance will decrease based on the absence of one or more dependent children, the family unit should still be receiving their actual shelter costs through the HSS, while their child or children are temporarily in care. If eligible, the HSS should be provided to the family for 6 months at a time. In order to continue receiving their normal shelter costs for these 6 months, an MCFD worker must confirm that the parent(s) are actively working towards reuniting their family.
If you are a Ministry client who is having difficulty accessing the Housing Stability Supplement, reach out to TAPS for assistance: