Renters in low-to-moderate income households in the Greater Victoria and Salt Spring Island region now have longer-term access to a rent bank in their community. Started as a pilot program operated by the Community Social Planning Council, this project has been extended to March 2022 with ongoing funding by BC Rent Bank (a project funded by the provincial government), and new funding from United Way Greater Victoria.
This funding will enable the Community Social Planning Council to support hundreds of households in the region with loans and/or support services, such as mediation, advocacy, referrals and help with accessing government programs. Households eligible for rent bank services are renters who are struggling to pay rent and/or utilities due to a short-term crisis or unanticipated income shortages. The need for this type of program for the community has grown dramatically in light of COVID-19.
Since early 2020, United Way has worked in its capacity as convener and community facilitator to turn the concept of a rent bank into reality. In February 2021, the Greater Victoria Rent Bank opened its doors as a three month COVID-19 pilot program, using seed funding and operational support from the BC Rent Bank by way of the provincial government.
Though Rent Banks are only a small piece of the homelessness prevention puzzle, they fill an important gap for tenants in short term crisis. “The demand for the COVID-19 pilot program was overwhelming, with over 200 households applying in the first ten weeks,” says Diana Gibson, Executive Director of the Community Social Planning Council. “It shows that this new phase of Greater Victoria’s rent bank program will be stepping in to meet a critical gap in the region going forward.”
Rent banks focus on housing stability and homelessness prevention for low-to-moderate income renters. They provide various support services that help to stabilize a person's housing, including financial assistance; navigation with understanding and accessing benefits and other community supports; financial literacy; mediation between landlords and tenants; and advocacy for tenant rights.
“Forty-eight percent of households in Greater Victoria are housing insecure, with one in five households paying more than 50 percent on housing – and we know that rent banks provide much-needed services, which is the reason we are building the foundation of a provincial network that is making a real difference in renters’ lives right here in Greater Victoria area,” says Melissa Giles, BC Rent Bank’s Project Lead.
The Greater Victoria Rent Bank continues to actively seek long-term funding partners that will become part of homelessness prevention housing solutions, ensuring that tenants can retain their housing and landlords can be paid.
The loans provided by rent banks are small and interest-free, with eligibility assessed on renters having the ability to repay loans over a six- to 24-month period. Where funding allows, these may be complemented by grants.