Dad living in cockroach-infested public housing dreams of better home when national funding comes in 2020

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Dad living in cockroach-infested public housing dreams of better home when national funding comes in 2020

A Winnipeg dad who struggles to get by is welcoming a new national housing strategy that would see families like his receive a rent subsidy. But for now, he will have to continue living public housing that's infested with cockroaches and bedbugs.

"You just look you'll see them crawling on the walls, like here I killed those two just earlier," said William Lawrence Whitford during an interview inside his Manitoba Housing apartment in Winnipeg's inner city Thursday.

Whitford has been living in the building for about five years. In the lobby, signs advertise steamer rentals that can be rented to treat furniture with bed bugs. A cockroach ran on the floor underneath the poster while a CBC reporter was reading it.

Whitford considers himself lucky because he's on the fifth floor and doesn't have to deal with bedbugs — cockroaches are his problem.

He taught his two-year-old daughter Marie how to kill them when she was just one. Whitford said he welcomes the federal Liberals' plan that would see families like his get an average rent subsidy of $2,500 annually starting in April 2020.

He said he's considered moving outside of Winnipeg into better, more affordable housing. Now, he hopes he will be able to find that in Winnipeg — someday. 

'It's a start'

The Liberals plan to spend $4 billion on the Canada Housing Benefit and a total of $40 billion over 10 years as part of the strategy. The plan also pledges to tackle homelessness, the shortage of new housing units, repairs to existing buildings and will focus on providing housing for women fleeing abuse.

"It's a start. We'll see how it goes from there."

Whitford broke his back about a year ago and is living on social assistance. His rent is subsidized by the Manitoba government so he pays just under $500 a month for a two-bedroom.

Manitoba Housing said in an emailed statement that there is currently a pest treatment program at Whitford's building, and they are working "diligently to address [the pest issues]." Tenants can get free mattress covers and other help to prepare for a pest control treatment. 

The Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association has waited years for a national housing strategy and is now waiting to learn details of how the promised cash will make its way to Winnipeg non-profits.

"To actually have a strategy and have it on an agenda of the government is a very positive start," said Laurie Socha, president of the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association.

The Crown corporation tasked with housing — the ‎Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation — said the national strategy will have an evaluation component every three years and if targets aren't being met, programs may be redesigned.

"The process will be transparent," said Carla Staresina, vice-president of affordable housing ‎at CMHC.

Some cash won't come until after next election

Tim Sale, the former Manitoba Minister of Housing and chair of Right to Housing Manitoba, said the plan was a "good first step."

"We didn't get anywhere with the previous government, so we were delighted when the current government pledged to do this and now they've done it," Sale said in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio.

But still, he as well as the federal NDP are concerned the plan is pushing off spending until after the next federal election.