When you’re living on a tight budget, it’s scary to think about what would happen if you had to deal with an emergency expense.
You might be able to cut back on other expenses in order to cover an emergency, but some expenses, like your rent and utilities, aren’t going to budge.
For some folks, there is a service set up to help in these types of situations.
Rent bank explained
A rent bank provides loans to renter households who have regular income but are facing eviction as a result of a short-term financial crisis like illness, job loss, relationship breakdown or eviction. The loans are low- or no-cost and have generous repayment terms – usually up to 24 months.
Who provides this service? Rent banks are generally run by not-for-profit organizations, and often receive funding from government, other not-for-profit organizations or investors like Vancity.
Rent banks are designed to prevent evictions and stabilize housing for working people living on low incomes. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent a short-term financial crisis from turning into homelessness. As with so many poverty issues, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure: it is far better to keep someone housed than try to rehouse them.
While rent banks provide good short-term solutions, I want to stress that they are not an appropriate solution to meet the ongoing, systemic need for affordable housing in our communities.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about Vancity’s model for building affordable rental housing and our overall investment in affordable housing. Vancity is also involved in other initiatives related to BC’s new poverty reduction strategy to address other household stresses, such as low wages, expensive childcare and transportation, and food insecurity.
Local rent banks
Currently there are less than ten rent banks programs operated by not-for-profit organizations in British Columbia, including a handful in the Lower Mainland.
While differing in their approaches, all are designed to help individuals who are facing challenges paying for their rental housing due to a temporary financial crisis.
Vancity has been supporting rent banks in local communities for over a decade. We recently announced that we’re collaborating with a group of community rent banks to expand access to emergency low- or no-cost loans to help renters facing eviction, thanks to a $10 million grant from the federal government to the Vancity Community Foundation. That project, which is now underway, will first help strengthen existing rent banks and then move to help establish new rent banks in unserved communities.
Here’s an introduction to the current rent banks in the Lower Mainland.
Run by Mennonite Central Committee
The Fraser Valley Rent Assistance Project provides one-time emergency loans for families and individuals who are at risk of losing their homes. Loans are provided to pay for security deposits, utility deposits and rent. The program also helps participants build knowledge and skills in effective money management.
Run by Lower Mainland Purpose Society for Youth and Families
The New Westminster Rent Bank offers low-fee, short-term loans to low-income individuals and families that live in the City of New Westminster and are at risk of eviction or essential utility disconnection due to a temporary shortage of funds. The loans can be used for overdue rent, overdue essential utility bills, damage/security deposits and first month’s rent.
Surrey, White Rock and Delta
Run by Sources Community Resources Society
The Sources Rent Bank provides one-time crisis loans to low-income individuals and families in Surrey, White Rock and Delta facing unexpected financial circumstances. The loans can be used for overdue rent and utility bills, as well as damage deposits and first month’s rent in special circumstances. They may provide a loan for up to $1,200 for a single person or up to $1,600 for a family. Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria and show that they have the means to repay the loan.
Run by Network of Inner City Community Services Society (NICCSS)
The Vancouver Rent Bank offers short-term funding to families and individuals that live in the City of Vancouver, who are at risk of eviction or essential utility disconnection due to a temporary shortage of funds. They can also provide a security deposit if current housing is deemed unsafe or unsustainable. The program also provides low-income individuals with the tools to better manage their financial resources.
If you are in an emergency housing situation, you can apply to the Province of BC for hardship assistance. This support, available to individuals not being served by Income Assistance or by Persons With Disabilities support, provides one-time financial help, if you can demonstrate you have exhausted all other options.
Although not rent banks, BC Housing also offers these two rental assistance programs:
- Rental Assistance Program (RAP): provides eligible low-income, working families with cash assistance to help with their monthly rent payments. To qualify, families must have a gross household income of $40,000, have at least one dependent child and have been employed at some point over the last year.
- Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER): helps make rents affordable for BC seniors with low-to-moderate incomes. SAFER provides monthly cash payments to subsidize rents for eligible BC residents who are age 60 or over and who pay rent for their homes.