News that BC’s budget allocates $10 million to the first-ever provincially-funded rent bank comes as a relief to Dr. Ehsan Latif, and to many other proponents of this service.
The Professor of Economics has been studying rent banks since 2014. His research shows rent banks prevent vulnerable populations from experiencing homelessness, and has been instrumental in the establishment of rent banks across BC, including New Westminster. But provincial support for this effort is huge, in that it provides stability and allows for expansion.
Rent banks provide small loans at low interest rates with the goal of preventing evictions. Typically, to qualify for a loan, clients must prove they are capable of paying it back, and they typically must attend financial literacy counselling.
There are currently no details about how this $10 million will be allocated, but Latif is hopeful that it will be modeled after Ontario’s Provincial Rent Bank program, which is administered by municipal service managers. The current system of individual communities in BC searching for available funding and grants is unsustainable, and depending on donors is problematic, he said. The banks also rely on clients paying their loans back, but if a client falls short, the program can’t expand.
Those who access this service do so because they’ve found themselves in an extremely precarious place: “Someone became sick. Someone lost their job, or there’s been a disruption in the family like a divorce and they cannot pay one month’s rent,” Latif said.
“This is not a rent bank for homeless people. This is a rent bank for regular people who for some reason get into real financial trouble.”
Latif’s community-based research showed that those who accessed the services of a rent bank stayed in their homes. “Most of those who use this service are below the poverty line and are paying more than 50 per cent of their income for housing.
“Their income is low, their savings is low, and if at any time the rent goes up, they are very vulnerable to becoming homeless.”
Latif’s original research was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Aid to Small Universities grant.
Dr. Ehsan Latif, Professor
School of Business and Economics