Canadian Mental Health Association-Vernon & District Branch now offers dedicated rent bank services in North Okanagan
Community-based assistance stabilizes housing through financial emergencies
Okanagan and Secwepemc Nations Territories — The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)-Vernon & District Branch is now operating the North Okanagan Rent Bank, with financial support from BC Rent Bank and the Province of BC.
The North Okanagan Rent Bank, based in Vernon, is open and available to renters in low- to- moderate income households who live in the communities of Armstrong, Ashton Creek, Cherryville, Coldstream, Enderby, Grindrod, Lavington, Lumby, Spallumcheen and Vernon. While rent bank services have been available to residents of these communities since the onset of the pandemic through the Kamloops & District Elizabeth Fry Society, BC Rent Bank is pleased to welcome dedicated services based in the North Okanagan.
In Vernon, nearly a quarter of rental households (24 per cent) spend more than half of their income on housing costs, while the vacancy rate for apartments sits at one per cent. Low-income households living in non-subsidized rental housing have particularly been impacted by the ripple effect of rapid employment loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in greater housing instability.
Rent banks are one part of a broader system of housing stability and homelessness prevention that helps people hold onto their housing when times get tough due to unanticipated short-term financial challenges. They provide interest-free financial assistance, most commonly in the form of loans, to households at risk of eviction for reasons such as non-payment of rent or utilities. They can also aid individuals by providing a damage deposit or first month’s rent, enabling tenants to gain access to housing.
In addition to providing small amounts of financial assistance, many rent banks also assist with:
- Advocating on behalf of individuals to landlord/tenancy boards, utilities corporations, etc.;
- Mediating and guiding conversations between individual tenants and their landlords and others;
- Referrals to other agencies for access to food, clothing, transportation support, and more;
- Helping tenants access government subsidies, grants programs and/or benefits for which they may be eligible.
Additionally, CMHA-Vernon & District Branch is able to provide wraparound services to individuals and households that are being supported by the North Okanagan Rent Bank. These include employment assistance, specialized occupational therapists for people living with disabilities, educational courses focusing on mental health, financial planning, dealing with stress, and parenting, as well as tele-support programs including BounceBack®, distress line, and peer support.
The North Okanagan Rent Bank joins the growing province-wide network, which includes the Central Okanagan Rent Bank, operated by Canadian Mental Health Association-Kelowna, and the Kamloops Rent Bank, operated by the Kamloops & District Elizabeth Fry Society.
Melissa Giles, Project Lead, BC Rent Bank: “With the opening of the North Okanagan Rent Bank, we are another rent bank closer to offering province-wide services. Our partnership with the Kamloops & District Elizabeth Fry Society played a crucial role in ensuring rent bank services were available to residents of North Okanagan during the pandemic, and allowed us to focus on finding a long-term partner, which we found with CMHA-Vernon & District Branch.”
Nicole Zelez, Acting Executive Director and Human Resources & Operations Manager, Canadian Mental Health Association – Vernon & District Branch: “CMHA Vernon is dedicated to mental wellness, and housing stability is a crucial component of health. Housing is one of the most basic needs for our community, yet it is increasingly at risk for many. The North Okanagan is an incredible place to live, but there is a growing number of households who are only one paycheck away from choosing between rent and food. With North Okanagan Rent Bank, we can help people manage short-term financial distress while also providing additional support and referrals.”
Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee: “Our government is proud to support this new rent bank, which will help renters in the North Okanagan living paycheque-to-paycheque keep a roof over their head. This support will give families a peace of mind where they don’t need to worry about eviction if they face an unexpected crisis. We will continue to work closely with all of our community and municipal partners to deliver supports like this so that everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home.”
About Canadian Mental Health Association-Vernon & District Branch
The Canadian Mental Health Association-Vernon & District Branch is a voluntary association that exists to promote Mental Wellness in the community of Vernon, and surrounding areas in the North Okanagan. It is part of a provincial and national organization. We believe in enabling individuals, groups, and communities to increase control over and to enhance their mental health.
We are committed to providing an environment that is free from prejudice, discrimination and harassment. We strive to reflect the entire community in our volunteers and staff, and promote equal access to the services we provide. For more information, visit cmhavernon.ca
About BC Rent Bank
BC Rent Bank is a project of Vancity Community Foundation and funded by the Province of B.C. The mandate of the BC Rent Bank is to support the funding of existing rent banks; to provide support and seed funding for the establishment of new rent banks in B.C.; and, to create the infrastructure necessary to support a potential future province-wide rent bank system or service. For more information or to find your local rent bank, visit bcrentbank.ca.