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As Vancouverites debate a Rent Bank, Surrey offers insight

March 23, 2012


While writing a piece for Metro yesterday on the proposed Vancouver Rent Bank, I discovered Dianne and her crew are years ahead of Gregor on the subject.

For those unfamiliar, the Surrey Rent Bank is a non-profit organization funded with existing municipal coiffures. They provide short-term microloans to qualified low-income renters (in Ontario, they’ve managed to roll out a provincially funded rent bank after Toronto adopted the pilot program decades ago).

The service is usually made available to renters on the cusp of spiraling into homelessness. Once they pass that point of no return and require access to social services, it becomes much more expensive for the various levels of government.

As Councillor Judy Villeneuve put it to me:

“It’s been totally worth the cost. The expense of dealing with people who are homeless is far greater. It’s really just to help people fill a gap. Sometimes it just takes two or three months to fill a gap.”

The program offers loans up to $1200 to cover a month’s rent ($1600 for families), but won’t consider applicants who receive less income than their rent expense. That means if you’re a single welfare recipient ($610/month) and you want help moving into a $700/month apartment, you’re out of luck.

Qualified applicants are given a one-time payment to cover rent or damage deposit and asked to pay it back sometime over the next two years.

Since its inception three years ago, the Surrey Rent Bank has issued 88 loans totalling $75,000, according to numbers provided by Surrey officials. Approximately $15,500 of loans have been repaid to date.

Considering the Rent Bank has no teeth to back up their request for repayment, that’s not terrible. Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang has noted other rent banks have seen a repayment rate at 75 per cent. And as Villeneuve stated, the cost to taxpayers is minimal when compared to the staggering costs associated with providing services to the homeless.

Surrey officials also provided a telling breakdown of those who use the service. More than half (58 per cent) never completed high school, while a high majority are in poverty (59 per cent). A disproportionate number are also mentally ill (13 per cent). When you consider that 60 per cent of these recipients also have dependents, it gives substance to the cushioning effect of a rent bank.

Villeneuve hopes the province will eventually create a program similar to the Ontario Rent Bank.

See poverty stats for the city here.

Below are the stats I was forwarded on Surrey Rent Bank usage:


·         Female – 60%

·         Male – 40%

Marital Status:

·             Single 60%

·             Divorced 24%

·             Married 12%

·             Common law 4%

Borrowers with children – 60%

Housing Emergency:

·         Eviction notice received –  42%

·         Next month shortage – 20%

·         Verbal notice – 19%

·         Currently homeless – 13%

·         Other – 6%

Housing Challenge:

·             Poverty/Income –  59%

·             Job loss  – 16%

·             Mental health – 13%

·             New in town/domestic abuse/child welfare/physical disability/ injury – 10%

Education level:

·         Technical diploma/journeyman – 34%

·         Grade 10-12 – 24%

·         High School graduation – 23%

·         Less than grade 10 – 11%

·         College or University – 8%

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