Rent bank for low-income residents in crisis launched in Vancouver

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A program designed to help renters during temporary financial crises that threaten to put them out of their home was officially launched in Vancouver today (October 10).

The Vancouver Rent Bank began accepting applications in early September, but was formally announced as part of Homelessness Action Week. The service is being funded by the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Foundation and Streetohome Foundation, and administered by the Network of Inner City Community Services (NICCSS).

Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said the program, which was approved by council in March, will provide short-term, interest-free loans to eligible applicants that can prove they are able to pay the loan back within up to two years.

“So you’re given essentially a two-year interest-free loan, and you can pay it back anytime during those two years,” he told the Straight by phone.

Kate Hodgson, the executive director of NICCSS, said the network has received 50 inquiries and 11 applications so far, and distributed two loans. Other applicants have been helped through advocacy efforts to help keep them in their current housing, a service that is also incorporated into the rent bank.

Hodgson said the program is aimed at low-income people who don’t have the option of applying to their bank for a loan or credit line, or other options that Vancouver residents might typically have.

“Our experience in the past has been that for a lot of people, they end up going to the really predatory payday loan type companies, and that just puts them in deeper and deeper debt,” she said in a phone interview. “So we’re trying to offer an alternative to that.”

According to Hodgson, an example of a loan applicant included a mother and daughter who were living in a shelter. The parent had a job lined up and a potential apartment, but couldn’t afford the security deposit.

“The loan was able to help them make that security deposit and now they’re able to move out,” she said.

She added that other typical scenarios include people experiencing a health crisis, or those temporarily laid off from work.

Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, commended the launch of the rent bank, which he says he began advocating for more than a year ago after hearing stories from his constituents.

“In one particular case, a woman, due to illness, ended up losing her home and sleeping in a van,” he told the Straight by phone. “She lost her job, lost her belongings, the landlord lost rent, and she was on the street, and ended up having to get into social housing in the end because she was put so far behind.”

Jang noted the program is expected to help prevent an estimated 1,600 evictions that take place each year due to these types of financial crises.

Those seeking the help of the Vancouver Rent Bank can apply directly through NICCSS, or through community centres and neighbourhood houses around the city.

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