Renters in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) now have the ability to access rent bank services so they do not lose their housing.
The rent bank is designed for people in the low- to moderate-income bracket, who are facing a “temporary crisis” and are unable to pay their rent, said Melissa Giles, the project manager for BC Rent Bank. Interest-free loans can be applied towards rent, payment in arrears, essential utilities or a rental deposit so that tenants do not lose their housing during this crisis. Loans offered are up to $3,500.
“It is a micro-loan program,” Giles explained. “Applicants have to be in a position where they can demonstrate they’ll be able to pay [the loan] back.”
The province formed a Rental Housing Task Force back in 2018, which resulted in a list of recommendations. One of those recommendations was a rent bank program.
The BC Rent Bank started out as a project of the Vancity Community Foundation, with services primarily in the Metro Vancouver area. But on Nov. 23, 2021, BC Rent Bank officially partnered with the Kamloops and District Elizabeth Fry Society on an interim basis to centralize rent bank services throughout the province.
BC Rent Bank is still working to secure a long-term partner in the Alberni-Clayoquot region to localize rent bank services, but Giles said this has been difficult during COVID-19 because so many non-profits are struggling financially during the pandemic.
“The province wants to support community-led initiatives, so our long-term goal is to find a non-profit organization [in the ACRD] and begin to work with them,” said Giles. “But we didn’t want to see renters go without services while we were looking for long-term partners.”
A survey conducted by the City of Port Alberni and the ACRD in 2020 showed that, at the time, 58 percent of respondents were spending more than 30 percent of their household income on housing. The report also noted that the average rent increased by 37 percent between 2006 and 2016, although the median income for renters decreased during that same time.
Communities on the West Coast (including Tofino, Ucluelet and West Coast First Nations) also undertook a Housing Needs Report this year. Their survey showed that 48 percent of renters said their housing costs were not affordable, while another nine percent were “not sure” if their housing costs are affordable.
During the first half of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the B.C. government had an eviction ban in place, the BC Rent Bank helped people navigate services, referring them to different agencies and benefits.
“That’s our preferable goal,” said Giles. “We don’t want to burden people with a loan if there are other options. We’re all about finding solutions for people.”
Now that the eviction ban has ended, Giles says there has been a “really big response” as the public has become aware of the rent bank service. The BC Rent Bank saw its daily applications triple after the province-wide rollout on Nov. 23.
Nine applications have come in from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District so far, said Giles, most of them from residents in the City of Port Alberni.