Kings County's Housing First running on empty

Kirk Starratt
Published on March 24, 2014

By Kirk Starratt

Funding has dried up for the Housing First Association of Kings County and its board isn’t sure what it’s going to do next.

A rumour the non-profit group received a cheque from the county this past fall for $20,000 that the organization did not request and wasn’t authorized by council isn’t true, said treasurer Duska Poirier.

She said the last money the group received from the municipality was $20,000 in June 2013, part of the municipality’s 2012 budget, which was used to pay for expenses.

Poirier said a complete statement of funds received and expenditures will be available at the March 26 annual general meeting.

Read about Housing First's situation from the board's point of view here.

County chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan said he checked the municipality’s budget binder and found reference to a two-year commitment made to Housing First in 2012 for $20,000 each year. MacEwan said there was some question of where the request came from, as it was made orally.

A motion passed by council in the fall of 2013 requires any further funding requests from Housing First to be in writing. Council also passed a motion to have Housing First provide a full accounting of the expenditure of the previous funds.

Housing First has since indicated that it was withdrawing funding requests, MacEwan said, so it is not included in this year’s budget.


Partnership with towns

According to a January letter to county council, Housing First had planned to request $40,000 from the county in 2014-2015, $10,000 from Kentville and Wolfville, $7,000 from Berwick and $50,000 from the province.

Housing First chairwoman Rebekah Wetmore said Housing First said the funds would cover the salary of one full-time employee who would serve all of Kings County and facilitate collaboration and engagement to build prosperous, caring communities.

“None of this is easy and it requires sustained, consistent effort,” Wetmore said. “The requests were withdrawn because the board did not feel that there was a clear way forward in the immediate future for this goal.”

The former interim navigator of Housing First, Madonna Spinazola, said there was no indication when her contract was up in December that municipal units had pulled any funding.

“Housing First is too important an investment to drop at this critical stage,” she said. “All deliverables are in place as promised and year three was to be the year for projects to begin.”

She said it would be “inconceivable” for municipal units to pull out at this stage, especially with housing issues a number-one priority for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

However, the decision was made Feb. 8 by the Housing First board to withdraw requests for financial support because the board didn’t know what it was going to do.

Housing specialist Lia Renaud said the county, Wolfville and Kentville told her Housing First would have to present a business plan before requesting further funding. Poirier said there was no time to prepare a plan, so the funding requests were withdrawn.

The board has directed Renaud to investigate the parameters of provincial funding budgeted for affordable housing during her remaining employment.

Former board member Merrill Ward said he understands that the money is “just sitting there” and suggested that Housing First take a proposal to the province to increase rent subsidies.


Where the money went

Poirier reported Feb. 26 that Housing First has no income and its bank balance was $6,874.

In January, the association reported its income statement from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2013 to Kings County council. During that period, the association received $34,483 in Service Canada funding and $20,000 from the county for a total revenue of $57,128.

During the same timeframe, it had $63,392 in expenses.

One of the highest expenses was $26,700 paid in professional fees. According to Poirier, the majority of those expenses were covered by a federal grant received for the Homelessness Strategy project. Of the $26,700, $24,333 was paid to Spinazola and Associates Consulting Services for work completed on the project. The consulting company belongs to the former Housing First interim navigator.

Spinazola said that to save the association time and money, her consulting company was contracted to set up Housing First’s organizational structure. The association had no funding at the time and a payroll system was not deemed necessary. She agreed to use her “experience and expertise” to lay the foundation for the association.

“I had agreed to take on this task for one year whether or not I received remuneration. To this end, a volunteer board of directors was established, as well as organizational policies and procedures,” Spinazola said.

The tools are now in place, she said, for Housing First to begin working with contractors and communities to build affordable housing and move forward to assist homeowners with necessary repairs and more.

However, Spinazola said this strategy would not materialize unless municipal funding is in place to ensure sustainability of a full-time housing specialist to work with local stakeholders. 


Housing First expenses from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2013:

• $22,749 - payroll

• $3,600 - accounting and legal fees

• $26,700 - professional fees (includes payment to consultant)

• $1,498 – insurance

• $1,233 – telephones

• $1,987 – travel

• $2,568 - spring forum

• $2,159 - meeting supplies