Thompson Rivers University

Rent Bank Research Lends Hope to the Homeless

September 8, 2014

City of Kamloops.

What happens to a family in danger of eviction when they can’t pay the rent, or are cut off when their utilities are overdue? Homelessness is often the result. Rent banks offer an innovative approach to support tenants and improve housing stability before homelessness becomes a reality.

“Rent banks provide small loans at a low interest rate to keep people in stable housing or to pay utilities that are in arrears,” explains Dr. Ehsan Latif, associate professor of economics at TRU. A new research project by Latif and a team of community researchers will look at the performance of the Kamloops Rent Bank, which was established in January 2013, and determine how best to tailor the rent bank concept for smaller cities like Kamloops.

“Like other existing rent banks in Ontario and BC, the major objective of the Kamloops Rent Bank is preventing homelessness,” says Latif. His project, called “Rent Banks: a Solution to Homelessness”, will evaluate the performance of the rent bank in achieving that goal, as well as its economic impact and feasibility, and examine successful strategies adopted by other existing rent banks to create a rent bank model that works in small city contexts.

To begin the three-year study, Latif will review data and literature from existing rent banks in BC and Ontario, and conduct interviews to assess the impact of Kamloops’ lending program. He says that in addition to providing short-term financial support in times of emergency, the Kamloops Rent Bank offers financial literacy training to its clients, which will also be assessed. Researchers will also compare the cost per client for the rent bank to the cost of alternative homeless prevention approaches, such as emergency shelters.

“These emergency funds keep people with nowhere else to turn from becoming homeless and entering the cycle of poverty,” says Tangie Genshorek of Kamloops Homelessness Action Plan (HAP). The rent bank study is a collaboration with community partners such as HAP and the Elizabeth Fry Society, and will employ TRU undergraduate student research assistants.

This project builds on the quality of life and social capital research completed through TRU’s Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grants from 2000 to 2012, which explored the social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability of small cities. In years two and three, Latif’s research will expand to include Kelowna, Nelson, Prince George, Nanaimo and Victoria, to further investigate how issues of homelessness are best addressed and understood in communities outside of Canada’s large metropolitan centres.

“Rent Banks: a Solution to Homelessness” is part of the homelessness in small cities research strand identified in TRU’s Strategic Research Plan, within a proposed research centre for community and cultural engagement, and funded by an Assistance to Small Universities (ASU) grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

This research will contribute new knowledge about homelessness, marginalized communities in small cities, and effective policy development, and promises profound academic and social impact.

For more information contact:
Dr. Ehsan Latif, Economics
Thompson Rivers University
T: 250.377.6026

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City of Kamloops photo by Matthew Tarzwell, 2008.

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