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.