Five questions for an ACEF Director: Micheline Côté

Essential needs
June 20, 2022 •  By Centraide
Micheline Côté

A person with passion for the community sector, Micheline Côté is a founder of the ACEF LAVAL, an agency she has been leading for over 25 years.  

Today, she shares the agency’s current concerns and challenges, which obviously have been exacerbated by inflation and the housing crisis.   

Dedicated teams at the ACEF LAVAL provide concrete solutions to help people resolve their budget, credit, debt and housing issues.

Over the past two years, given the health crisis and now inflation, how has the clientele served by your agency changed?  

The face of our clients hasn’t really changed over the course of the health crisis. Things were really hard when the pandemic started because people were very emotional and worried. We think this may be a future legacy of the pandemic, as we get more calls from people at risk of homelessness or people who have lost their jobs or even their apartments or homes due to a divorce. 

As for inflation, we haven’t yet seen the impact on clients. The ACEF feels the effects of an economic crisis later on when people are struggling or more in debt. People often try to make ends meet by using their credit cards until they’re maxed out. Since the start of the inflation period, we’ve had more requests for the “Budget” and “Eating Well at a Low Cost” workshops that we give at Laval agencies and schools.  

“The ACEF feels the effects of an economic crisis later on when people are struggling or more in debt.”

Inflation in Canada reached a record high of 6.8% in April. 

According to the latest Statistics Canada survey,1 85% of the poorest Canadians report that rising prices have “somewhat” or “greatly” affected their ability to cover their expenses. 
Also, 24% of Canadians report “delaying the purchase of a home or moving into a new rental.” 
The report also found that 27% of people “often or sometimes had to borrow money to cover their day-to-day expenses.”

Is the housing crisis impacting the requests you get? 

Yes, in a big way! Since 2019, requests from tenants for help with problems nearly tripled. 

The housing crisis goes far beyond the lack of housing; it has opened the door to abuse from some landlords, who resort to all sorts of tactics to quickly profit from their investment (repossession, renovation, abusive rent increases, harassment, illegal housing, etc.). We are seeing a shift in values, as housing is no longer seen as an essential service but as a consumer good. Rents are subject to the laws of supply and demand, and prices are set according to a property’s market value.  

Over time, tenants have lost their bargaining power and are increasingly victims of illegal schemes. If tenants resist and assert their rights, it’s not uncommon for them to face harassment or blackmail. 

People are having a very hard time finding housing. Rents are always increasing.  We encourage people to try to reach an agreement with their landlord so that they can stay in their apartment. A new phenomenon is that new landlords aren’t following the rules and try to increase rents abusively. 

“We are seeing a shift in values, as housing is no longer seen as an essential service but as a consumer good.”

How do you recommend that people manage their budgets to cope with inflation? 

More planning. Prioritize essential expenses, such as housing, groceries, and transportation. Keep track of your expenses to get actual information about how much you spend. Plan your budget every month by forecasting your income and expenses and then recording your actual expenses. You can get help from an ACEF to do this!

What services does an ACEF offer?

Why is it important to support the ACEFs? 

The ACEFs are the only agencies that provide free and impartial personal financial management services. If the ACEFs aren’t funded, they will close. And if the ACEFs close, people may turn to shady debt consultants who advertise their paid services in newspapers or on the Internet. The worse the economy gets, the more this kind of scam starts cropping up.

“The ACEFs are the only agencies that offer free and impartial personal financial management services.”

A story of financial freedom 

A woman who had experienced domestic and economic violence wanted to regain control over her finances. She had never made a budget, as her ex-spouse managed everything without giving her a say. 

Little by little over one meeting at a time with an ACEF budget advisor, she was able to trust herself to manage her personal finances. She learned not only to manage her budget but also to have confidence in her own financial choices, such as reducing her credit use while saving for the unexpected. 

1Enquête Statistique Canada