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Comox Valley Regional Rent Bank

The Ripple Effect of the Comox Valley Regional Rent Bank

November 29, 2022

Imagine a family struggling to make their way in the world. Much of the time life is a paycheck-to-paycheck existence, but they’re making it work. The parents both have jobs, and the kids are at school. They have a humble but stable home, and just enough income to pay for groceries and the bills. But then the car breaks down, and it’s going to cost $2500 to fix it. Without the car the parents can’t get to work. This is where the spiral can start, and for some, quickly surge out of control.

This example is precisely the type of scenario that the Comox Valley Regional Rent Bank (CVRRB), established in September 2022, aims to address.

Ann Janssen is the Executive Director of Comox Valley Affordable Housing Society, which operates the CVRRB. She explains that the intention of a Rent Bank is to provide short term loans with no interest to low-income individuals and families to promote housing stability. If somebody gets into a situation where they don’t have enough money to pay their rent because of an unexpected crisis, they can apply for a 0%-interest loan for up to 36 months to see them through their tough time. The CVRRB is based on the BC Rent Bank model, which was established in 2019.

“This has a lot to do with homelessness prevention,” Ann says. “We see many families and single moms who end up in the Transition Society, or living on couches or in cars, simply because of one thing that came up in their life. If we can get to those people and help them out before that one thing becomes a snowball, they are not going to end up in that situation. We can keep them from being homeless in the first place. That is our biggest reason for spearheading the Rent Bank.”

CVRRB Case Manager Michelle Byers explains that to qualify for a loan from the Rent Bank people must be able to demonstrate their ability to pay the loan back and emphasizes that the monies loaned are not a grant. The repayment terms are flexible, and each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with the goal of providing as much assistance and support as possible.

“Even if we can't approve a loan, we have conversations with clients to refer them to other resources. We never just say, ‘Oh, you're not approved,’ and that’s it. This is a very grassroots movement. It's holistic, and it's meeting people where they're at.

“We’re really trying to prevent people from going and getting payday loans,” Michelle continues. “A lot of people do this because it's easy and it's quick. But the Rent Bank is an alternative with lower payments, no interest and people have true flexibility with repayment. “

The Rent Bank does not only provide loans to cover gaps in rent. Sometimes what’s needed is money to cover an essential utility, such as hydro, gas or propane, or a damage deposit for someone moving into a new place. The goal is to help clients stay on their feet and stop them from struggling under the weight of accumulating debt.

“Eventually,” Ann says, “we would like to have somebody on staff who can help with credit counseling. It doesn't matter how well you're doing, you can always use a little bit of help.”

When Ann and her team went looking for community support for the CVRRB initiative in early 2022, they were thrilled when First Credit Union stepped up.

“It's important to me to have the credit union involved,” says Board President Fred Tutt. “It shows that the community is out there to help. First Credit Union jumped in to help right away, which was phenomenal. We really appreciated that, and it makes things easier when we go back out to different organizations for additional support.”

Because the Rent Bank is so new in the Comox Valley, organizers are still in the process of figuring some things out.

“We're going to grow and we're going to learn more about what we can offer for support,” Michelle says. “People often just need guidance—where do I go next? And how do I get there? Part of our mission is to connect people with other resources, build relationships with other organizations, and pull resources from those relationships for the clients. I think the Rent Bank is going to make a huge difference, and I feel super grateful to be a part of it.”

The Rent Bank is just one tool in a broad homelessness prevention toolkit, and it helps one family at time, but the potential repercussions for the larger community are vast.

“When we help one family through the Rent Bank it benefits the larger community because it prevents added stress on another resource,” Ann explains. “It keeps kids in their home where they need to be. It puts less stress on a school, it puts less stress on the teachers, it puts less stress on basically everybody in a ripple effect.


Written by: Emma Levez Larocque