British Columbia

B.C. budget promises $10M for province-wide rent bank

Rent banks provide low or no-interest, short-term loans to people at risk of losing housing or basic utilities.

Rent banks offer short-term loans to people at risk of losing their housing

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James outlines Budget 2019 to reporters in Victoria on Tuesday. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

This week's 2019 B.C. budget includes $10 million to create a province-wide rent bank that is meant to help people in need of financial support for housing.

Rent banks provide low or no-interest, short-term loans to people at risk of losing housing or basic utilities.

A B.C. housing task force report recommended just such a system in December.

"We all know that there's a housing crisis in B.C.," said Kellie Carroll, executive director for the Network of Inner City Community Services Society, which runs the already existing Vancouver Rent Bank.

"I think that this is not the answer to that housing crisis, but it is a way of helping keep people who are housed housed."

Carroll told On the Island host Gregor Craigie that people typically access the rent bank because of illness or a family crisis.

"An individual might come in because they were ill and they're working and have a job that doesn't provide sick leave or sick days," she said. "They don't have their rent because they weren't at work [and] they didn't get paid."

How it works in Vancouver

At the Vancouver Rent Bank, people can apply for up to two months' worth of rental arrears (past-due rent), damage deposits and basic utilities. Anything longer than that is considered an ongoing crisis and would not qualify because rent banks only deal with short-term need.

On average, the rent bank lends $900, but can loan up to $1,200 for individuals and $1,800 for families. 

Individuals must go to the organization's office to fill out an assessment form, which confirms their address. They must also show they have regular income and a bank account by submitting three months' worth of banking statements.

If applicants do not have a bank account, the agency works with partners to help them get one.

They also must provide two pieces of identification, though if they don't have it the rent bank will find a way to confirm the person's identity.  

"We'll take photocopies from agencies," Carroll said. "We'll take an expired ID If they absolutely don't have an ID, we can go to a service provider they work with and they could take a picture and the service provider can certify, yes, this individual is who they say they are," Carroll said.

The application ends up with a loan approval committee, which ultimately makes the decision as to whether the person will get the loan.

Loan repayments are made over 24 months, with no interest, but there is a monthly one-dollar fee to cover the rent bank's banking costs.

Carroll said about 67 per cent of loans are repaid; the remaining 33 per cent that don't get paid off are just "the cost of doing business."

"We do try to keep in touch with people, talk to them see if we can renegotiate [or] reorganize the loan so it's a little less payment over a longer time, but some people just fall off the map," she said.

Carroll hopes the B.C. government will ask existing rent banks for help while it's getting established.

"We've been doing this for a while now," she said. "We have established our reputation, and we have systems in place, so why rebuild the wheel?"

 

With files from On the Island

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