VICTORIA -- Vulnerable people in British Columbia struggling to make monthly rent payments or find affordable places to live are now eligible for rental relief under a federal-B.C. program announced Monday.

The Canada-B.C. Housing Benefit will provide financial assistance, topping up monthly rent payments to help people make ends meet, Ahmed Hussen, federal families, children and social development minister, said at a news conference.

The 10-year, $517-million program aims to help members of up to 25,000 B.C. households pay their rent, he said.

“This is a game changer,” Hussen said. “It's a direct support to people, to individuals and families.”

He said the average benefit to participants across Canada has been about $2,500 a year, but the payment amount in B.C. can be increased depending on rent costs and household circumstances.

The program can help people living in rental properties with monthly payments or lift people out of homelessness into housing, said Hussen.

“It enables them to access housing,” he said. “Again, situations in which people can pay some amount of rent but are maybe priced out of rental markets, this will help them access independent housing and move away from shelters.”

David Eby, B.C.'s minister responsible for housing, said the Canada-B.C. benefits will be provided to households currently not eligible for the province's Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters.

The benefits are aimed at helping women fleeing family violence, Indigenous and racialized peoples, veterans, people with disabilities, youth leaving care and those experiencing homelessness or at risk of being homeless, he said.

“This fund will provide an additional amount of money to vulnerable groups in our province to help them make rent,” Eby said. “This would be where someone has some amount of money to put toward rent but market rents are too high for them to be able to get into that kind of rental housing.”

Hussen said the federal government's National Housing Strategy commits more than $70 billion towards affordable housing programs over 10 years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.