A Fraser Valley rent bank is reaching out to the province as it sets up a $10 million rent bank, saying its years of experience can help guide the provincial homelessness prevention measure.
The Fraser Valley Rent Assistance Project (FVRAP) operated by the Mennonite Central Committee – one of B.C.’s first rent banks, taking from models in Ontario and Alberta – is also applauding the provincial government’s initiative, saying it could offer significant relief for local rent banks.
FVRAP offers a variety of services during financial crises for renters who are short on rent, including a loan of up to $900 for individuals and $1,400 for families. But Melissa Giles, director of programs at MCC, says the rent bank isn’t just about loans.
“Somebody who experiences a financial crisis, they’re able to come in and meet with our program co-ordinator and sit down and take a look at what’s happened in life. So there’s always a little bit of financial literacy around it,” Giles said.
As well, FVRAP will do advocacy work with landlords and utility providers to avoid evictions or cutoff of services.
Giles said FVRAP, with backing of other B.C. rent banks, recently sent letters to Premier John Horgan, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson and deputy minister David Galbraith.
“We want to advocate to the provincial government that, as they’re thinking about the rollout of a provincially funded program, we’re here as a group that has already been walking this path, and we would love to be a resource to the provincial government,” Giles said.
In particular, Giles said the well-established rent banks can offer help to other communities as they set up rent banks funded by the provincial government. She noted that FVRAP helped other communities, like New Westminster and the North Shore, set up their rent banks.
“Rather than a community starting from ground zero, it’s like, ‘Come in and have a meeting with us.’ And then we can show you our process and then help you with some of the forms and applications and understand, as well, some of the data, some of the interview practices when you’re meeting with an individual and hearing their story,” Giles said.
Giles also applauded the $10 million announcement from the provincial government, which came out of TogetherBC, the recently released poverty reduction strategy. She noted that limited funds can hinder the ability of local rent banks to provide full services.
“It requires creativity on our part. We have a set amount of funds that we can disperse on an annual basis. So we’re wanting to help the greatest number of people,” Giles said.
“What we find in the last little while is we’re also just saying to the individual in our financial counselling: ‘OK, this is your need. What can you come to the table with?’ So they might come up with $300 and then we can come up with an additional $400 to $500. But we’re not coming up with the whole amount ourselves.”