A home can be hard to find when you’re young and on a budget. But let’s face it—you can’t couch surf forever. Let’s look at your choices for finding a safe place to live.
Finding the right kind of home depends on what you can afford and how soon you’ll need it. The following programs and options can help you decide.
Emergency and transitional shelters
When life spins out of control, shelters can keep you safe. Different shelters serve different groups of people, such as youth, women, families, and people with addictions.
Emergency shelters are meant to give you short-term help in a crisis. Transitional shelters may allow you to stay from 6–36 months and often provide special programs. They may help you find work and a long-term home. Some can help you adapt to life as a new parent or recover from addictions or abuse.
The following sites feature links to emergency and transitional shelters in Alberta:
- On 211 Alberta, you can search the Shelter/Housing category or click on a group, such as Youth, for shelter details.
- Find shelters gives details about emergency shelters for individuals and families. You can find transitional shelters under “Short-term supportive housing.”
- informAlberta.ca offers links to shelters around the province. Use “emergency shelters” or “homeless shelters” as a search term.
Renting means you become a tenant. That is, you pay a landlord to live in a room, apartment, or co-op. You may be able to access affordable housing. If you’re a student, you might try on-campus housing.
Before you sign a rental agreement, think about these 4 issues:
1. Picking the right home for you
Tip: It can be hard to take in a lot of details at once. It might help if you print out this information and read it slowly. Write your answers or thoughts beside the questions. Use markers to block out what’s not important for you. Use highlighters to mark what is important.
You may have a wish list for your new home. However, you may have to choose some things and let go of others to suit your budget and other realities. Ask yourself:
- Can you afford your own place, or will you need to live with roommates?
- How close should you live to places you visit often, like school, work, or special programs? You may pay more for rent but less for bus fare. You may also spend less time in transit, giving you more time to do other things.
- If you live farther away, are the bike lanes or transit routes and schedules easy to access and use?
- Will you feel safe in the place you’re thinking about?
- Will you be close to friends and supports?
- If you’re trying to make a change in your life, will you be too close to people and places that awake old habits?
- If you have a disability, will your new place accommodate it?
2. Renting costs more than the rent
That online ad looks pretty good. You’ll be able to pay the rent and have enough left over for some other things …well, maybe. Here are some extra costs to keep in mind:
- Most landlords will ask you to pay a damage or security deposit up front. This is usually the cost of a month’s rent. You will get it back when you leave, as long as you haven’t damaged the place. Go to 211 Alberta, click on Shelter/Housing, and look for Housing Payment Assistance for programs that help pay rent or deposits.
- Utilities, such as water, power, heat, and internet, may or may not be included in the rent. These can cost at least $100 more so be sure to ask what utilities are included.
- Tenant insurance is an option at about $25 a month. It isn’t required but, if you’re robbed or there’s a fire or flood in your building, your insurance will replace the items stolen or damaged. The deductible, which you must pay to the insurance company before they will pay the rest of the costs, however, is usually $500–$1,000. If you have to leave your home, insurance will pay for living expenses.
- Furnishings, such as a bed, couch, dishes, or curtains are not included in most rentals. Your roommates may have some of these items. Second-hand stores are also a good source. Check out this New Apartment Startup List.
3. Don’t sign too quickly
Before you sign the rental agreement:
- Walk through the property with the landlord. Make notes and take pictures of any damage. Make sure the landlord signs each note or picture to show they know about this damage when you move in. This will prove you didn’t cause the damage and make it easier to get your deposit back when you leave. You can also ask the landlord to fix any issues you point out.
- Find out if you’re renting month to month or for a fixed term. A fixed term is usually 12 months. Ask:
- Will you be charged if you leave before your fixed term is up?
- Will your fixed-term agreement or lease renew automatically?
- If you need a roommate to share costs, find out whether the landlord allows this.
- Some landlords don’t want pets or certain types of pets. Make sure to ask.
- Learn more about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.
4. Living with roommates
Sharing your living space with roommates (in a room, apartment, or house) has lots of good points. You’ll pay less rent and you’ll always have company. That said, you’ll need to learn to get along with others, which can cause problems. You may want to think about:
- Friends or strangers? Living with someone means giving and taking. Is that easier to do with a stranger or a friend? If you feel you’re doing more giving, will it hurt your friendship?
- Open communication—Talk about how you each do things and what you expect. You may want to write up a roommate agreement that covers everything from shared food costs and cleaning tasks to the extra cost of guests or new partners.
- Your own habits—Leaving an apple core on the bathtub ledge after your bath may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could annoy your roommate.
- Exchanging emergency details—If your roommate gets really sick, who would you call?
For more information about renting, check out these resources:
- Connections Housing stories—Learn how to meet the landlord, deal with discrimination, and more.
- A Roof Over Your Head—Learn about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, as well as your landlord’s, and get tips on working things out with roommates.
- Renting 101: A Guide to Renting in Alberta—Use this quick reference to understand laws that apply to renters in Alberta.
- Student Services—Check to see if the school you want to attend offers student housing. Explore the school’s website to learn more.
Alberta’s affordable housing program allows people with low income to rent at a reduced rate or get a supplement to help pay their rent. Their landlords can be municipalities, housing management bodies, businesses, and non-profit groups. To apply, you must meet certain criteria.
Rental supplement benefits
The province offers two types of benefits to help low-income Albertans pay their rent:
- The Rent Assistance Benefit is long-term and paid directly to tenants.
- The Temporary Rent Assistance Benefit helps people in Alberta’s major cities. Albertans who are between jobs and not receiving social assistance can apply.
If you’re a youth leaving care, you can talk to your case manager about financial supports. You may choose to have the landlord be paid directly for rent.
Transitional supported living or special needs housing
Youth who are 18–22 and have been in government care may have access to transitional living programs. However, these are limited. Call your caseworker for a referral.
People with special housing needs can access the affordable housing program to learn about health, wellness, and job and life skills in a supportive environment. Residents can include:
- people with developmental disabilities
- people with physical challenges
- victims of family violence
- wards of the provincial government
- people who are hard-to-house
- any other group with special housing needs
Visit the affordable housing programs page to find and apply for housing, or contact Alberta Supports. You can also search for affordable housing on: