New West rent bank could help residents at risk of eviction

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Theresa McManus / New West Record

OCTOBER 20, 2016 08:51 AM

Royal City residents at risk of being evicted because they’re short on money to pay their rent may soon have a place to go.

New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy and her constituency office staff have been working on the idea of creating a rent bank in New Westminster for more than a year-and-a-half. Since January 2015, they’ve been meeting with stakeholders and seeking financial contributions toward an endowment fund.

“It should be up and running within months, which is really, really good news,” she said. “This can prevent homelessness.”

While Darcy would like to see a full housing strategy in the province, she said a rent bank is an important piece of the puzzle that will help people who are facing eviction.

“If you prevent homlessness, you prevent that downward spiral that is really, really hard for people to get out of,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are one paycheque away from being homeless.”

Darcy said there are many reasons why renters need help paying their rent, including people who are switching jobs but haven’t yet started their new job, people who are waiting for Employment Insurance, WorkSafeBC or disability cheques, and people who are fleeing domestic violence and need funds to help them re-establish themselves.

“We have a lot of renters in New Westminster, the highest percentage in the Lower Mainland, so there are a number of people for whom this can really be a lifesaver,” she said.

Darcy’s office has secured contributions totalling $35,000 from organizations including Vancity, Community Savings Credit Union, Coast Capital Credit Union, G&F Financial Group, Greater Vancouver Community Credit Union and Westminster Savings Credit Union.

On Monday, New Westminster city council endorsed the establishment of a rent bank program in principle and directed staff to continue working with community partners on the program. Council also supported contributing $20,000 annually for three years to cover the administrative costs associated with operating a rent bank, with these funds coming from the city’s housing reserve fund.

Having secured funding to start a rent bank and having received the city’s support to cover administrative costs for three years, Darcy said work can get underway to get the rent bank up and running.

“Now there will be a process for community agencies to submit or indicate they are interested in running it. The whole idea is to have this embedded in a community agency that already gives supports to people, so that when someone applies for assistance from the rent bank, that community agency is already in a position to say we have these other ways to support you. Whether they are eligible for the rent bank or not, there are other ways that community agency would be able to support them,” Darcy said. “There are several community agencies that have indicated interest.”

The average loan amounts for rent bank programs in B.C. were between $700 and $900, stated a report to council by senior social planner John Stark.

According to the staff report, New Westminster had 13,375 renter households in 2011, with 5,870 (43.9 per cent) spending 30 per cent or more of their before-tax housing income on housing costs. In October 2015, the city’s vacancy rate was 0.9 per cent and the median monthly rent was $1,128 for a two-bedroom rental unit.

Mayor Jonathan Cote commended Darcy and her office for spearheading the issue and bringing community partners onboard.

“It’s such a huge issue, not only in New Westminster but (in) the region, in terms of housing affordability. I think it’s an important tool for us to be looking at,” he said. “Sometimes dealing with the housing issue earlier on, and in this case potentially preventing homelessness, can be a lot more efficient, compassionate and effective way of dealing with housing challenges.”

Christy Clark ignores families, gives top income earners a break

mum_kid_shopping_grocery-storeVICTORIA – While B.C. families are paying more for everything and wages aren’t keeping up, Christy Clark has chosen to give a $230 million tax break to B.C.’s top 2 percent of income earners, says New Democrat Leader John Horgan.

“This government is out of touch with real life for B.C. families. Today, Premier Christy Clark showed she doesn’t even know who is hurting and who needs a break. She offered no comfort for British Columbians who are struggling to get by, but she is going to cut taxes for British Columbians who make $150,000 or more,” said New Democrat leader John Horgan.

Under the B.C. Liberal government, the medical services tax has doubled, Hydro rate hikes will reach 80 percent, ferry fares and camping fees are up, while wages aren’t keeping pace.

“Families are paying more and getting less. People can’t find a family doctor, are struggling to get adequate seniors care, and the schools and hospitals they depend on are underfunded,” said Horgan.

At the same time, parents worry that young British Columbians are the first generation that will be worse off economically than their parents, added Horgan.

“It’s sadly revealing that, while middle class families are facing these tremendous challenges, Premier Clark’s priority was to choose B.C.’s top 2 percent of income earners for a tax break.

“We are a province of huge potential, with hardworking people, a bounty of natural resources and a location that is strategically important in the global economy. So why are so many British Columbians living paycheque to paycheque? Because our potential is being squandered by a premier who puts her friends first,” said Horgan.

“You just can’t take this premier at her word anymore. This speech carried on with the same empty promises about an LNG industry that she says is the ‘central preoccupation’ of her government. But so far all we’ve seen is promises of jobs for temporary foreign workers, and environmental standards that don’t cover 70 percent of emissions,” said Horgan

The premier placed a risky bet on LNG at the expense of other industries like forestry and mining, said Horgan.

“We need a government whose ‘central preoccupation’ and ‘laser-like focus’ is on helping build an economy that creates good jobs for British Columbians first – high paying jobs in sustainable industries. This speech offered no prospects of good, long-term jobs, no solutions for the problems people face every day, and no security for families.”