A Rent Bank Program that started in Kamloops in 2012 has expanded to the entire Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), providing low-income individuals and families who are in need, or at risk of losing their housing, with interest-free loans to cover rent and/or damage deposit and/or utilities.
The program is operated by the Kamloops & District Elizabeth Fry Society, and is open to all qualifying TNRD residents. Elena Markin, the Fund Development Coordinator, says that the Rent Bank was rolled out to the wider region in February 2020, and in the last year has seen an increase in inquiries from area residents.
“We’re seeing a greater need for service. The rental price surge has affected all communities in the TNRD, and the shortage of affordable rentals remains one of the most pressing concerns.”
She adds that this shortage was apparent even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only raised the concerns about affordable rental properties.
“Places are getting less and less affordable to rent, and a large number of renters are unable to afford or maintain housing. During the pandemic the cost of living has increased, and there has been loss of employment, plus unlivable wages and inflation. All these factors have led to difficulties for people who are facing challenges to make ends meet.”
Markin says that a healthy rental vacancy rate is three to five per cent, but before the pandemic the vacancy rate in Kamloops was 2.2 per cent.
“It’s insufficient for demand. A lot of people have transitioned from working in an office to a remote workplace, and people in larger communities have discovered that they can work remotely and afford more space elsewhere. They’re seeking cheaper rentals and more space outside big centres, which leads to an increase in demand for rental housing.”
The Rent Bank is a homelessness prevention program that is available to all renters who are at risk of losing their home due to a financial emergency, or who need help getting into the rental market. It provides individuals and families in need with a one-time, interest-free loan of up to $4,000 to cover rent, utilities, or a damage deposit.
The society works with housing income limits (maximum gross household income), which are based on figures established by Canada Mortgage and Housing. These figures — which vary, to reflect the cost of housing from community to community — reflect the minimum income required to afford appropriate accommodation in the private market, and are updated every year. Markin says that in the Ashcroft/Cache Creek area, the housing income limit for a one bedroom or less rental is $25,500 maximum gross household income; two bedrooms is $30,000; three bedrooms is $40,000; and four or more bedrooms is $47,000.
Markin notes that the Rent Bank helps people who can’t afford to pay rent and might have to borrow money if they don’t have a good credit score.
“People go to payday lenders, who are predatory lenders. The Rent Bank is trying to help people avoid more debt and reduce the possibility that they become homeless.”
Banks and other lenders don’t listen to people’s stories, she adds.
“We listen to them and try to find how we can help. Someone might need help navigating through a utility company, or we know of other resources in the community that will help them avoid financial distress. We do our best to keep informed of what resources there are for people in the area, as well as government supports. A lot of people don’t know about government programs that are available to help them, so it also has a financial education component. We help people understand a little bit about budgeting, and how to deal with future financial crisis situations they might have so they can avoid them.”
Markin also points to some of the other services that E. Fry can offer people, such as a legal clinic, a poverty law advocate, and a family law advocate.
“If anything comes to us like someone has lost employment for unjust cause we can involve the legal clinic, which provides a free service. We have different resources that we can assist with, and there are other agencies in town that can help, and we’re always looking for new programs and services so we can pass that information along to the people we see.”
The Kamloops E. Fry Society has loan capital that is given out as a low-interest loan; when the loan is paid back the money continues to circulate to others who need it. Markin says they are always looking for more capital.
“In Kamloops the community knows about it, so we have the support of businesses, individuals, and organizations. In the TNRD we’re still building that awareness, so we’re looking for capital so we can give out more loans. The money stays in that community and gets re-used as loans are paid off.”
Anyone who is interested in learning more about the Rent Bank and its one-time loan can go to https://bit.ly/3uQv8rW, where they can fill out a pre-assessment form and submit it. Once submitted, a staff member from the Rent Bank will contact them to talk over details. If a loan is approved, then a repayment plan will be drawn up.
“The repayment can be up to three years, with very flexible conditions; it depends on the situation,” says Markin. “We don’t want to pressure someone into paying right now.”