Vancouver Rent Bank

rent bankGatineau, Canada       There may have been snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, but the ACORN Canada staff’s spring planning and training meeting was in full bloom in Gatineau, Quebec, the sister city across the river from Ottawa, Ontario.  Several of the ACORN British Columbia organizers in their reports to start the sessions mentioned in Surrey and Burnaby, working class suburbs of the unaffordable, “executive” city of Vancouver, they were demanding a “rent bank.”

I asked Marcos Gomez, ace BC organizer sitting next to me, what is a rent bank.  He whispered that there was one in Vancouver, and they wanted it in other cities.

Interesting, so here’s what I found.

The Vancouver Rent Bank is essentially an emergency relief fund operated in a partnership between the City of Vancouver and various foundations and cooperatives in the area, like Van City, the giant credit union who handles some of the administrative functions.  There is an application process of course and a repayment plan, but the basic program is designed as a preventive measure to prevent evictions and therefore homelessness.

The Rent Bank handles only three situations:  security deposits to help people afford to get apartments, utility bills to keep people in apartments, and rent payments to prevent evictions.  If approved an individual can get a check made out to landlord or hydro for up to $1300 and if it’s a family $1800.  The standards are reasonable high for eligibility, like $28,000 for a family of one and over $50,000 for a family of four.   The money is given as no-interest loan with a two-year repayment plan, like a micro-loan of sorts.  Looking at the application process, it reads like it might be easier to get a home loan.  The list was daunting and an applicant needed to be able to produce the paperwork to back it up.  It included:

  • Currently a resident or will be a resident of the City of Vancouver
  • Are low-income (see chart below)
  • Are nineteen years of age or older
  • Have a bank account or are on income assistance
  • Have (will have) a concrete, consistent source of income
  • Have two pieces of ID
  • Can provide proof of tenancy
  • Not be in the process of bankruptcy
  • Have no un-discharged bankruptcies
  • Have a sincere reason for any delinquency in payments
  • Are not able to access any other form of government financial assistance
  • Have/ will have long term, safe housing
  • Have rental costs that do not exceed an ongoing ability to pay  rent
  • Be experiencing temporary financial crisis
  • Owe no more than two months rental arrears

Once I read “sincere reason,” my heart fell a bit.  This was obviously a very small Band-Aid over a huge gaping wound.  And, in fact the reports that were touted on the first year of the program indicated that they only gave out $124000 with administrative costs that were higher than the loan totals.  228 families were assisted that included 39 children. All good, but obviously not sustainable and hardly real relief.

The press reports mentioned that there was a program like the Vancouver Rent Bank in New York City.  Following that trail led to Homebase, a program begun in 2004 which has assisted 65000 over a decade, including 12,000 in 2014 in preventing homelessness.  The program is part of the city welfare and housing budget, so it seems a permanent commitment.

It’s easy to understand why ACORN members would want such programs in their cities.  With the cutbacks in welfare that have eliminated emergency relief programs, it’s better to have something than nothing. For the donors, for a cheap price they get some place they can all refer people, even while knowing few will benefit.

This is what changing “welfare as we know it” leads to sadly.


Slaid Cleaves “Welding Burns”