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North Vancouver rent bank offers emergency help

Provincially-funded program provides crisis loans to tenants
rent bank

Tenants facing desperate circumstances who can’t come up money to pay the rent will now have the possibility of emergency help on the North Shore.

A new rent bank set up by the Harvest Project will offer emergency interest-free loans to North Shore residents who are facing either eviction or disconnection of their utilities because they’ve come up short on cash.

The rent bank – a program being provided in nine different communities – started as a pilot project this year.

The province is kicking in cash towards rent banks provincewide, through a $10-million grant to the Vancity Community Foundation.

Since June, the foundation has distributed $240,000 in emergency loans.

On the North Shore, the Harvest Project started its rent bank with a private donation of $15,000 and has given out five emergency loans so far. That number is expected to jump to 25 in the next six months, said Gary Ansell, executive director of the Harvest Project.

Kevin Lee, development officer for the Harvest Project, said there’s an obvious need for the rental bank on the North Shore.

“You don’t have to be particularly special to face the challenges of having to spend more than 50 per cent of your income on housing, which is not unusual on the North Shore, and thousands of families and individuals are faced with that every month,” he said.

Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, said it’s not at all uncommon for her to hear from residents who are anywhere from $50 to $300 away from being able to pay their rent.

Keeping that roof over their heads is even more important given the region’s current housing crisis, she said, because, “the most inexpensive and most effective housing that we can help people with is housing that they already have.

“Once they lose that housing, once they lose a rent-controlled apartment, their other options are extremely limited.”

Often families have been just scraping by but are pushed over the edge by an unanticipated crisis like a job loss or being unable to work because of health issues, she said.

When tenants can’t pay the rent on time, “it’s rare to find landlords who are willing to put up with that long-term,” she said.

Ma said she’s even had community members come to her constituency office looking for a loan. “And unfortunately it’s not the kind of service that we can provide.”

There are some existing emergency helps for renters. For those on social assistance, the province will sometimes provide emergency funds. BC Hydro also provides emergency help to those who qualify through its customer crisis fund.

But the rent bank offers another avenue of assistance.

To qualify, renters have to meet certain criteria, including having a bank account, proof of income and proof of tenancy. Maximum loans are up to $1,400 for an individual and $2,000 for a family and are expected to be paid back.

There are some strings attached. Those receiving loans from the North Shore rent bank automatically become clients of the Harvest Project and will be offered financial counselling and connections to community resources.

Ma said while some people might be surprised that a service like the rent bank is needed here, “people often underestimate how much people struggle financially on the North Shore because the perception is people are quite affluent.”

People are surprised when she tells them her riding has a median household income below the provincial average, she says. “People don’t expect that.”

The rent bank won’t solve the housing issues on the North Shore but may provide some families with an emergency stopgap, she said.

“Having a crisis rent bank gives people another option that wasn’t there before.”