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 homelessness, 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.”