CALGARY - The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it has discovered a person making $112,000 a year living in subsidized housing in northern Alberta.
The federation says it's also found other cases where medium- to high-income earners were given housing intended for the poor by the Heart River Housing Agency.
"When you're at $112,000 a year you might not be Mr. Burns, but you are not in need of social housing," said Alberta director Derek Fildebrandt, referencing the rich character in the television show "The Simpsons."
Heart River Housing has its headquarters in High Prairie, about 360 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
The taxpayers federation used access-to-information laws to obtain the information.
Fildebrandt said the $112,000 earner was paying $725 a month for a three-bedroom place in 2012. The person has been there for 12 years.
He said another person earning more than $82,000 also received subsidized housing, along with seven others with incomes between $46,800 and $56,000.
"If you're making between $47,000 and $56,000 a year, you're not rich but you're not in need of social housing. I think a lot of people will be surprised at $56,000 you can potentially land yourself social housing," said Fildebrandt.
A request for comment from Heart River Housing was not returned Thursday.
The agency's website says "family housing units are available for households of modest means." It says rent includes utilities and is based on 30 per cent of gross total household income. Household incomes and circumstances are to be reviewed annually to determine continued eligibility.
The taxpayers federation says Heart River Housing says that some of the units it manages have vacancies that it cannot fill, so it rents those units to people not in need.
Fildebrandt acknowledges the rules do allow for that.
"But 12 years is not a temporary vacancy," he said. "This person is living permanently in social housing and they're making quite a bit of money."
The federation says Heart River Housing received $2.5 million in provincial funding in 2012.
He wants the Alberta government to conduct an audit to determine if the situation is isolated or if there are others across the province. He also recommends a review of the income thresholds required to qualify for social housing.
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths praised the taxpayers group for bringing a concrete example forward, since he has heard only anecdotal evidence of this happening in the past.
He ruled out a provincial audit, but encouraged all social housing agencies to do self-audits.
"Now everyone who's involved with social housing and every local authority around the province should be looking internally at the way they operate so we can fix this," said Griffiths.
"It will mean every housing authority from Calgary to Cold Lake and Fort McMurray to Fort Macleod will say: 'Hmmm. Let's check and evaluate our strategy here. Maybe we have properties we don't need.'"
Griffiths said his department has been working behind the scenes for the last year with the Alberta Social Housing Corp., which owns low-income properties.
"I had issued a direction that we were going to re-evaluate and come up with a new real estate strategy and sell off the stuff that isn't needed or being used properly."
He said the same message has been put forward to municipalities which have local and regional housing authorities.
"We're doing this and you should re-evaluate your property, too, and make sure it's being used as efficiently as possible."
Griffiths said the proceeds of any sales on a regional level would be reintegrated into the municipality.
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