ROP residents in Toronto pay into a Trust Fund. In Vancouver they pay a monthly program fee. While these plans require different contributions (which will be explained below) they have three big commonalities:
- It is made clear that this is not a rent payment. It is critical to avoid fees/payments being construed as rent as this then leads to rights and obligations for both parties under relevant landlord/tenant legislation.
- Money is refunded in full or in part to the residents upon departure.
- By simulating a rent payment it creates a practice of regularly budgeting and setting aside money for housing costs on the part of the young person.
CHT: Residents of ROP in Toronto pay into a Trust Fund. The amount of the payment is determined in conjunction with staff and is individualized based upon a youth’s income, as well as their anticipated rent after they move out of ROP. For a youth who is receiving social assistance the amount might be $180, whereas a youth who is receiving funds from child welfare might be asked to pay $600. Changes in income sources or amounts require a re-working of the budget to determine what the payment should be.
“When I first came here they set up a budget of how much I was making monthly and we broke it down to ’Okay, what do I need to spend on hygiene products? What’s my clothing budget for the month? Entertainment? Food?’ and then just kind of allotting ‘Okay, so I’m going to put away $500 every month because that’s what rent would be.’ The idea is that you try to put as much away as you can budget so that way when you leave here you get that money back. It was a really good opportunity for me because I was able to leave here with some savings. I don’t think if I hadn’t come here I would have been able to do that on my own.” ~ Vanessa, age 28, past ROP resident, Covenant House Toronto
Within the first two weeks of arrival the youth will develop a budget and savings agreement with their Consistent Worker. If necessary, youth will be supported to establish chequing/savings accounts at a financial institution.
Frequency of Trust Fund payments will depend on the schedule by which a youth is paid/receives income; most youth pay bi-weekly. Youth have a 48 hour period after they get paid in which to make their Trust Fund payment. Failure to do so can result in an overnight suspension from the program and a referral to a homeless youth shelter.
When the Trust Fund account reaches $5,000 the youth meets with their bank and makes plans to move this money into their own secured savings; for example, a tax free savings account. All of the savings are returned to the young person, whether the Trust Fund contributions were made through earnings, scholarships or a form of government assistance (i.e. social assistance, disability payments).
As youth get closer to discharge (usually around the nine month mark), the youth begins to save money in their own account rather than making Trust Fund payments. The amount they save will increase to be a more realistic match with a future rent payment. This may require a reworking of their budget in consultation with their Consistent Worker.
CHV: Residents of ROP in Vancouver pay a monthly program fee amounting to 60% of income up to an absolute maximum of $300 per month. This is due on the 1st of each month. While most youth pay the $300 flat rate, the Steps guidelines indicate this as the standard payment. A pro-rated payment is made for the month in which they move in to ROP.
Program fees are set aside and potentially available for reimbursement. The policy notes “this does not include program fees that are paid while you are on a youth agreement, income assistance, or employment insurance (EI). It also does not include program fees that are paid late” or any program fees paid beyond the first year. This rule ensures that only the monies the youth themselves pay (as opposed to a government agency) is returned to the youth.
If a youth moves out during Step 1 or Step 2 they are not eligible for reimbursement. If they move out during Steps 3-6, a portion of their program fee is returned in the “form of a cheque, start-up items, or damage deposit for your new place and/or educational scholarship.”
Known as a “graduation bursary” the assistance is designed to help youth transition and succeed in their independent living. The assistance may be paid directly to a vendor such as a landlord or educational institution.
The value of the bursary is as follows:
- 25% of the fees paid if departing while on Step 3
- 50% of the fees paid if departing while on Step 4
- 75% of the fees paid if departing while on Step 5
- 100% of the fees paid if departing according to plan after successfully completing Step 5 or 6.
For example: A youth who pays the maximum $300/month and who leaves after one year with a successful completion of Step 5 or 6, would therefore be reimbursed $3,600. If they left after a year but were still on Step 3 their graduation bursary would be $900.
Homeless Hub Thoughts:
The ability to reimburse youth is definitely an ideal goal. However, it may not always be feasible from an operational point of view. In some cases, the contribution from the youth may need to form part of the operating budget of the transitional housing program. However, the youth may not always make their payments so it would be risky for agencies to count on the payments as a guaranteed form of support.
We support a zero discharge into homelessness policy and do not feel that missing a payment (i.e. Trust Fund payment in Toronto) should be grounds for a suspension. While we understand the intent of showing that actions have consequences, transitional housing needs to be a secure place that allows for youth to make mistakes without resulting in even a night of homelessness.
From a legislative perspective, the act of reimbursing all or a portion of funds to the youth should be an argument against the program and the agency being seen as a landlord under provincial/territorial landlord-tenant legislation.
Whether or not money is reimbursed, getting youth in the practice of paying rent is a great concept. The creation of that habit, along with support provided to the youth around budgeting, makes it much more likely that the young person will be able to maintain rental payments when they move into independent living.
We understand that the change to length of stay is new in Vancouver, and we support their review of the graduation bursary cap. Any agency looking to develop a longer term stay program should consider how a youth who stays for several years will be able to recoup more of their funding even if it is just a percentage of what is paid.
We also feel that Toronto’s Trust Fund payments provides youth with a more realistic sense of budgeting and better models the actual payment of rent. We particularly like the gradual increase of the amount paid so that youth first get comfortable with the idea of budgeting and making regular “rent” payments and then begin to contribute more based on their post-discharge plans. We encourage organizations to work to have the youth contribute realistic payments. Even in small communities, it is unlikely that a post-graduation/discharge rent payment will be $300 (the amount of the program fee in Vancouver) so it is better to get youth accustomed to paying a higher amount (unless they are addressing and paying off debt instead).
The question of returning funds to a youth when the income source was government funding is a tricky one. Certainly, if a government agreement states that the payments they make to an organization are only for that organization itself (and particularly if the payments are made directly to an organization) then the money cannot be returned to the youth. However, if youth are receiving funds directly (i.e. social assistance, disability payments) and are then making their expected practice rent contribution themselves, we believe the money should be returned to the youth as if it came from any other source. This is the practice at Covenant House Toronto and we think it is a good one. The start-up funds provided by the graduation bursary/Trust Fund system is critical to helping youth establish themselves independently.
 This is in the process of being reviewed with the change in limits of stay. These changes only took effect in October 2014 so CHV is working to figure out possible options for the graduation bursary in this new context.