British Columbia

Interest-free loans to help cover rent payments are being offered to more B.C. residents

In January, the provincially funded B.C. Rent Bank initiative will expand to Central Okanagan and Nanaimo regions, serving people who have trouble paying rent at some points in their lives

Rent bank network expanding to Central Okanagan and Nanaimo after success in Prince George and Fraser Valley

Langley resident Luz Lopez Dee was nearly evicted by her landlord for failure to pay her monthly rent, but thanks to a short-term loan from a local rent bank, she was able to pay the rent of $1,300. (Submitted by Luz Lopez Dee)

Luz Lopez Dee has rarely missed paying her rent, but sometimes mishaps happen. 

Years ago, the 76-year-old Langley resident forgot to reply to a Service Canada letter which created a delay in her pension cheques and meant she didn't have enough money to cover the monthly rent on her apartment. That almost led to her becoming homeless.

"My [housing] manager said, 'If you aren't going to pay me this week or if you aren't going to pay rent, I will evict you," she said. "That was scary."

Instead, Lopez Dee secured an interest-free loan through a rent bank designed to help people with lower incomes maintain housing. 

"My goodness, it was really a big help," she said.

A sign reading 'Canadian Mental Health Association' attached on an office building.
The Canadian Mental Health Association will launch a rent bank serving Central Okanagan residents in January. (Submitted by Allison Murray)

Rent banks have long been established in B.C., but work is now underway to expand them throughout the province.

Last June, the B.C. Rent Bank was established with funding from the B.C. government. So far, it has provided money to charities in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and Prince George to sustain their existing rent bank programs or open new ones. 

The program will expand to the Central Okanagan and Nanaimo in January.

Through the initiative, people in crisis will be offered loans of up to $2,000 to help cover housing costs. They repay the loan, interest-free, over the course of six to 24 months. 

Crises are unexpected events that can come in many forms, says B.C. Rent Bank project lead Melissa Giles.

"A lot of these examples are things like a single parent … [who doesn't] have benefits at their workplace. They have to miss a few days of work because their child is sick and now their rent payment is at risk," Giles told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

"Other examples would be people who have an expense related to their cars. They've had an accident or they've had a repair that has cost them money," she said.

The non-profit Canadian Mental Health Association will operate rent bank programs for residents of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country and Peachland, where housing affordability is increasingly an issue.  

"It's not the answer to our affordable housing issue," Giles said. "But it will be a support for people … [in] these times where they just can't make that month's rent."

B.C. Rent Bank project lead Melissa Giles says rental loans are not a solution to housing affordability issues, but they offer some help to people in crisis. (Submitted by Allison Murray)

Giles says, on average, 65 to 70 per cent of loans are repaid to rent banks every year. Rent bank case managers tailor repayment plans to their clients and allow them to make partial payments or defer payments should another personal crisis come up.

The Aboriginal Business and Community Development Centre in Prince George — which has run a rent bank program  since 2002  — says it tries to make clients' lives as easy as possible.

"We do not chase our clients, but we do offer financial literacy courses and we do remind them of their payments," Catherine Anderson, the centre's financial literacy coordinator, told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West.

"I'm all for creating a sustainable future for everyone," Anderson said. 

Tap the link below to listen to Melissa Giles' interview on Daybreak South:

With files from Daybreak South and Radio West