New provincial legislation is allowing victims of domestic violence to break their rental agreements without financial penalty so they can more easily flee danger.
The Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act came into effect on Monday to allow a tenant to obtain a certificate from Alberta Human Services to give their landlord that confirms they are at risk of violence.
Service Alberta and Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean said an estimated 60 to 100 women per year are expected to access the certificates based on how often similar legislation is used elsewhere in Canada and Alberta’s rate of domestic violence.
McLean, who worked as a family and criminal lawyer, said difficulty escaping an abuser is far more common than people realize.
“Typically the women would want to take the abuser back and have the charges dropped because she couldn’t afford to keep renting where she was and he was refusing to pay any of the rent if he wasn’t physically staying with her. The lease she had compelled her to want to take her abuser back,” McLean said on Tuesday.
Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter supports the initiative.
“We think there will be cases where this will be helpful and can enhance safety,” said Ian Wheeliker, executive director of the Red Deer shelter.
He said most of the women accessing certificates will likely be in bigger cities, “but I think for a woman who is feeling financially trapped in her current housing, it is another tool in the tool box.”
He said the shelter is also moving forward on a project that would create housing for women and children who have left the women’s shelter but still need high security. They would be part of a 65-unit community housing project involving other agencies to house people who need support, like families struggling with homelessness and others.
The project — Supportive Integrated Housing Options for Central Alberta (SIHOCA) — just received $50,000 from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that will be used to develop a business plan and preliminary designs to prepare for when the government calls for housing project proposals in late winter or early spring.
He said unless a better option becomes available, the roughly $13-million project would be built on land the shelter owns along 47th Avenue, next to the emergency shelter.
“The folks that are shovel-ready, basically ready to start building within a few months, are going to be the folks who will probably get the first round of funding. We want to be in the first round and get the project going,” Wheeliker said.