Government rules could leave apprentices in union course homeless


REG PHALEN QUIT FLAT. He was afraid he’d be left homeless if he didn’t.

Reg was finishing off his first year of apprenticeship training in Toronto to be a carpenter. He was afraid the pay he got while on the course would be more than the government housing authority allowed for someone living in subisibized public housing.

Reg had to make a choice: stay on course and become homeless in the middle of a housing crisis; or, quit the course and keep a roof over his family’s head. Reg quit the course.

This isn’t supposed to happen. Most apprenticeship programs in Ontario do not count the pay workers make while training as income—but not the one Reg was on. That course is run by a union.

Union apprentices shut out

The province exempts some apprenticeships from subsidy calculations. The goal is to support and encourage residents living in subsidized housing to pursue education and training opportunities.

But the exemption was limited to training affiliated with colleges of applied arts and technology, private career colleges and other specific educational institutions—not unions.

The carpentry apprenticeship program is affiliated with the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades. It doesn’t fit the government regulations. Therefore, any earnings would still be counted against a housing subsidy.

Paul Daly, president of the carpenters union Local 27, says they’ve repeatedly seen apprentices suddenly quit after their first full year out of fear of being evicted from their housing—despite the fact the program specifically recruits from workers who live in Toronto Community Housing Corp. (TCHC) houses.

Daly said many trainees who still lived with their families in community housing have resigned out of fear that their earnings would push their household income above a threshold where their housing subsidy might be reduced or revoked.

“It’s frustrating and frightening” says Daly.

Union presses for fix

Daly wants the province to change their regulations and extend their subsidy exemptions to the union-run program.

A government spokesman said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on whether further changes to subsidy rules were under consideration until a new cabinet is selected by the new Progressive Conservative Ontario government.

Daly recently brought his concerns about the program to Toronto Coun. Mike Layton, who said he intends to raise the issue at city council and ask for support in requesting a provincial change.

“It seems like something that could be pretty easily fixed,” Layton said.

Apprenticeship big plus

Yverson Belotte is currently a carpentry apprentice in Toronto. He didn’t grow up in community housing, but had a modest childhood, raised by his mother in Scarborough after arriving from Haiti. At 25, Belotte was offered a spot in another 14-week pre-apprenticeship, which funnelled into the same five-year apprenticeship as the TCHC program.

For the now 29-year-old, the apprenticeship has been a game-changer. “I’m able to help my mom. I’m able to provide for my son and his mama. I’m able to provide for myself,” he said.

Several years into his training, he’s thinking about starting his own company one day. But he’s also seen friends drop out, including those who were recruited from TCHC communities.

Daly, the union president, said their data indicates 80 per cent of apprentices who reach their third year of training stick it out all the way. Ideally, he wants to see trainees at least hit the three-year mark before their income is included in subsidy calculations — a sort of grace period, which he hopes will result in fewer young Torontonians handing in their resignations.

“They just wanted opportunity,” he said.

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