Hundreds of well-off Calgarians are living in subsidized housing, including some with household incomes as high as $172,000 a year, according to information obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“My tongue hit the floor. My head hit the desk. I couldn’t believe it,” CTF Alberta director Derek Fildebrandt said of his reaction when he first read the documents he received under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.
According to those documents, more than 1,200 tenants of subsidized housing in Calgary are earning between $50,000 and $172,000 a year, including 18 earning between $120,000 and $172,000 a year.
Fildebrandt said there’s “no excuse” for people of such means to be taking advantage of programs “intended for the poor.”
“These people should look themselves in the mirror the next time they see a homeless person,” he said.
The majority of the tenants appear to being living legally in their subsidized housing, Fildebrandt added, often by qualifying initially and then seeing their incomes rise later on.
“People’s incomes go up and, because they’re already in, they can’t be kicked out,” Fildebrant said. “So it’s up to the province to change the landlord and tenancy act.”
Still, he said the city and city-owned Calgary Housing Company (CHC) could do more to enforce stricter income thresholds on affordable-housing tenants.
But CHC general manager Rick Farrell said his organization already did all it effectively can when it implemented new measures in 2011, including changing lease agreements with new tenants.
“As people’s incomes rise over time, if they’re on a periodic tenancy, we’re unable to get them out of their units due to income levels,” Farrell said. “So we switched all that to fixed-term leases so that they get renewed every year.”
As for the tenants who are “grandfathered” in, Farrell said the “power of suggestion” is “the strongest tool” the CHC currently has to encourage them to vacate the units to make room for families in greater need of below-market housing.
“You point out the nature of the programs and ask them if they have any consideration of moving,” he said.
Farrell noted CHC rents out more than 10,000 units in the city, roughly 7,000 of which are social housing, which are not the types of units at issue here.
“The ones that are grandfathered that we’re talking about are in the other (category) – the near-market rents,” he said. “We actually have to survive on those incomes and we need those rent levels in order to keep the buildings in good shape and well kept.”
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths has weighed in on the topic in the past but a spokesperson said he would not be available Tuesday to comment.
In February, Griffiths praised the CTF for bringing forward an example of a person making $112,000 a year and living in subsidized housing in northern Alberta, saying up until then he had only heard anecdotal evidence of such things happening.
At that time, Griffiths ruled out a provincial audit, saying instead social housing agencies ought to audit their own operations.
Farrell said the number of high-income earners in CHC properties is steadily declining and he expects that to continue.
“We’re on the track to eliminating that problem,” he said. “It just takes time.”