Spencer Chandra Herbert: NPA attack on rent banks shows lack of understanding on homelessness

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      I recently heard an ad with Suzanne Anton and the NPA attacking the concept of a rent bank, a homelessness prevention tool, with the claim that Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council were trying to force Vancouverites to pay their neighbours’ rent.

      A provocative attack ad certainly—but one that shows the NPA doesn’t know what it is talking about.

      I came to support rent banks, and started work to get one founded in Vancouver after getting to know a constituent who had lost her home, and was living in her van. She became homeless when she couldn’t make the rent due to a short-term illness which prevented her from working. She had no extended health benefits and was living on low wages paycheque to paycheque so she had no rainy-day fund to tide her through. She missed the rent, and was evicted.

      She ended up living in her van for over two years on the streets of Vancouver as she lost everything. It all seemed so senseless and preventable. Had she been able to apply, and then receive a short-term loan paid to her landlord she wouldn’t have lost her home, or her dignity. She would have been back to work, and the loan would quickly have been repaid. Instead she ended up on the streets.

      Rent banks assist people with steady but low incomes and a proven history of paying bills on time, with a one-time bridge loan so the landlord gets paid and they can stay in their homes when they face a situation that prevents them from making the rent. There is a strict application process to prevent abuse, and the vast majority of loans are quickly repaid.

      Surrey, Prince George, Victoria, Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope, Victoria, Calgary, and the province of Ontario already have successful rent banks in operation. Why? Because these short-term, small-scale loan programs prevent homelessness and ultimately save taxpayers money.

      Rent banks aren’t for everyone, but can serve a key segment of our population who are low income and are at risk of homelessness—seniors on pensions, families who are trying to get by on low wage jobs, and others who due to high living costs and low incomes cannot build up a stake big enough to tide them through tough times.

      The cost of supporting someone who has become homeless has been pegged by an SFU study at $55,000 a year per person due to legal, health care, social services, and many other costs our society bears. This is not to mention the emotional and social costs of homelessness to our community.

      With a Vancouver rent bank, we could prevent fellow Vancouverites from ending up on the street, losing their belongings, damage deposit, and good name.

      Landlords would also benefit from rent banks as they get their rent, and don’t face eviction costs which a CMHC study recently pegged at $6,000. Surely, rent banks represent sound public policy on both the human side of the equation, and on the financial side. A few hundred dollars in the form of a loan that we get back sounds like a pretty good deal to me compared to the much higher costs of homelessness.

      Before attacking this homelessness prevention tool, Anton and the NPA would be wise to meet with rent bank providers and loan recipients, and mayors, councillors, and community leaders from the many B.C. communities that support them to gain a better understanding of the issue. That to me would show real common sense and leadership, and would gain much more support than attack ads.

      Spencer Chandra Herbert is the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, and has been working to found a rent bank in Vancouver.



      Arthur Vandelay

      Oct 5, 2011 at 11:17am

      Sounds completely reasonable. Why do I hear another shoe about to fall?

      Save Vancouver

      Oct 5, 2011 at 11:44am

      If paying other people's rent is such a great idea, let the province do it. As we see from Europe's current turmoil the continual build up of these types of programs is ultimately unsustainable.

      Charlene MacFarlane

      Oct 5, 2011 at 11:49am

      Commonsense and leadership are not attributes prevalent to the NPA team.
      Just look at campaign chair Peter Armstrong, locked out 104 frontline staff who built his company. The reason? They wouldn't accept a wage decrease after having a wage freeze for the last 3 years. He then replaced them with scab labour, stopped negotiations with the union, and used very heavy-handed lawyers and private investigators to try to intimidate them.

      Doesn't make much sense to me.

      Jaye Sunsurn

      Oct 5, 2011 at 11:59am

      Its interesting that there is the belief that these rent banks are free rides of a sort when it clearly mentions in the article that there is no such free ride here. It is a short term, small loan, to make sure a person can make rent. If the individual is constantly needing such a service, they wouldn't exactly qualify for such a loan, but someone who for a understandable reason like illness would get a loan, make rent, and then over a reasonable period be required to pay that loan back. How does someone who is required to pay back something spell free ride? Cost to the overall system, is minimal. Having to evict someone not just costs the person it costs the landlord, the city, and thus the tax payer, not to mention it increases the homeless population and that will tend to decrease the overall desire of people to live within a region. This is literally a stitch in time to save nine sort of solution.

      Matt T

      Oct 5, 2011 at 1:27pm

      Jaye Sunsurn wrote
      "Its interesting that there is the belief that these rent banks are free rides of a sort when it clearly mentions in the article that there is no such free ride here. It is a short term, small loan, to make sure a person can make rent"

      Nice to see someone read the whole article before commenting.

      "Save Vancouver", you could learn something from this.

      Rob Roy

      Oct 5, 2011 at 2:46pm

      Spencer's proposal is well meant, but simple minded.

      Instead of creating a new bureaucracy to solve an old problem, we should use the assets we already have.

      Consider: use Vancity or Coast Capital to provide such loans. No new bureaucracy. Let these loans (85% of which will be repaid) be guaranteed and under-written by the City.

      If such a loan goes into default, it would be covered by the taxpayer, to be sure. Even so, it would still cost us MUCH LESS than all of the support services that go into subsidizing homelessness.

      But don't waste our money creating a new 'rent bank' bureaucracy. Be smarter than that. Redeploy an existing system, and use the credit unions.

      It will get the same job done -- only faster and cheaper.

      Gentleman Jack

      Oct 5, 2011 at 4:20pm

      Is this was passes for an MLA? This is borderline incoherent nonsense...

      He does nothing to refute the correct statement that a rent bank would "force Vancouverites to pay their neighbours’ rent." In fact, all he does after this statement is tell a stupid emotional story about a single individual---tear tear, tear tear, not a good basis for socialist wealth redistro.

      Where will the money come from? It will come from ratepayers. It will be used to pay rent. A sob story about how it would have prevented dreadful privation does not refute that. He did not even put in the "it will reduce overall costs" canard by suggesting that when people go homeless, they cost the system more, so it makes economic sense for the ratepayers of city of vancouver to pick up the tab, because if they don't, they'll pay even more in another way.

      If these loans make economic sense, why aren't banks making them?

      Ray I

      Oct 5, 2011 at 4:43pm

      The statement "The cost of supporting someone who has become homeless has been pegged by an SFU study at $55,000 a year per person due to legal, health care, social services, and many other costs our society bears." is misleading and false. That amount is an imaginary average of all homeless NOT those who become temporarily homeless due to short term cash flow issues. That figure is skewed in favour of the hardcore homeless; those with mental illnesses, drug addictions and those deemed "unemployable".

      That group are heavy users of healthcare and social services (both public and not-for-profit). It reflects the $1 million/day that we as taxpayers pump into that black hole of the povertarian industry in the DTES.

      If the real figure is still more than we should absorb then the private sector should run the program not more government bureaucrats!

      james green

      Oct 6, 2011 at 12:09am

      Any rent bank should be funded by the three levels of government and the banks and credit unions in a P3 fund.
      Yes we are our brothers and sisters keepers but all level of government and private sector should work together to do this.
      Spencer is a fine young man but needs to come up with a means to make things happen rather than coming off like another pol attacking another pol and her party because an election is coming up.
      You are NDP Spencer and Vision that is basically a civic liberal party does not need your help defeating the NPA. The NPA with their ridiculous ideas can defeat themselves on their own.
      My biggest fear is that we end up with 3 more years of a major who is a one trick green pony because there is no alternative candidate to him or Suzanne.

      Taxpayers R Us

      Oct 6, 2011 at 12:32am

      The NPA aren't really all that lefty, but at least they wouldn't pretend to support it, ship the homeless to Kelowna for a couple of weeks, create a campaign on reduced homelessness with video showing a drop in the number of people not (in Vancouver) homeless anymore, and then spend money they don't have on bike lanes.

      One is brutally honest, the other a complete scam.