The Vancouver Rent Bank: Background, Operation, Analysis
August 6, 2013
October of last year saw the official opening of the Vancouver Rent Bank (VRB), one of the latest initiatives undertaken by the City of Vancouver in its struggle with the issues of homelessness and housing affordability. The Vancouver housing environment is characterized by the most expensive rental and ownership prices in the country, the highest provincial average of household debt, and a string of municipal policy initiatives aimed at combating homelessness and supporting low-income residents.
The VRB provides emergency one-time financial assistance to low-income individuals and households in danger of eviction by offering interest-free loans of $500, $800, and $1300 for a maximum of two years. It considers applications for loans to cover rental or utility arrears, past due rent, and needed security deposits or first months rent. The bank, which does not provide loans to Vancouver residents already receiving social assistance, is the fourth of its kind in the province and joins the Prince George Rent Bank, the Fraser Valley Rent Bank, and the Surrey Rent Bank, all of which began operating in the last four years. While figures for the number of loans administered by the VRB will likely be released annually, by January of this year it is stated to have provided 48 loans, and received 58 applications. This comment reviews the economic rationale for the VRB, and contextualizes the Rent Bank as a policy instrument in North America and in the Vancouver market.
Rent Banks in North American Housing Policy
Emergency financial assistance to prevent evictions originates in recognized and institutional form as the Connecticut Eviction Rent Bank Program in 1989, which preceded similar programs in Virginia, Mid-Maine and New Jersey – all of which are recorded as being successful in preventing the displacement of households and the costs associated with evictions and homelessness.
The first Rent Bank program in Canada was established in 1998 in Toronto as part of the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force and implemented by several community agencies. The Toronto pilot successfully administered 37 loans with a target demographic of female sole parent households. Though only initially in operation between 1998-2000 (it has since restarted), the Toronto project would influence the development of a rent bank in Ottawa-Carelton, the Ontario Rent Bank Network, and future banks, including three in British Columbia. By 2005 there were 11 eviction prevention programs in Canada offering financial assistance.