Rent banks are helping residents find and keep housing in a tight Kootenays rental market
June 2022 | It was one year ago – last summer – when the first rent bank arrived in the Kootenays, and it couldn’t have been more opportune.
“The housing situation in the Kootenays has gotten progressively worse over the last eight to nine months,” says Ray Griffiths, rent bank case manager, homeless shelter site manager and outreach program lead at Castlegar & District Community Services Society (CDCSS).
Rents have skyrocketed, with property prices soaring over the last few years, says Griffiths. “A lot of people are looking for [rental] housing,” he says, noting the trend of homeowners selling, which often results in the eviction of tenants in basement suites. A one bedroom or bachelor is currently renting for around $1,500 when they were renting for half that price about three years ago.
Today, CDCSS is providing services and support to five people who are living in their vehicles, and 10 men and three women in their shelter, which is full. “We’ve been full all the time, ever since we opened in November 2020,” says Griffiths matter-of-factly, as he expresses hope that they’ll soon have funding to operate the shelter year-round. As the case manager of the local rent bank, Griffiths witnesses the need for affordable housing every day. “I probably see four or five openings for rental housing a month.” And he’s not optimistic about new vacancies in the short or medium term. “There’s nothing under construction right now that is for low-cost housing or subsidised housing; everything is market rate,” he says. Until more affordable housing is available, Ray and the Kootenay Rent Bank will continue to support local residents to maintain their market rentals.
Since opening a year ago, the rent bank has received almost 200 applications for assistance. Griffiths recently placed two homeless rent bank clients at a renovated motel that turned standard rooms into micro-suites by adding sinks, small stoves and fridges. These units rent for approximately $1,200 per month, plus utilities.
Recent rent bank clients that CDCSS has supported include a woman in remission from cancer, who got her hydro bill under control so she could stabilize her housing. And this week, Griffiths assisted a mother and her young child with their first month’s rent and damage deposit. They fled an abusive relationship on the Sunshine Coast. “She’s all set up, safe and sound – and ready to go after six weeks of couch surfing while searching for a rental unit.”
“The rent bank has had a very positive impact,” Griffiths says. “Our main goal is to stabilize someone’s housing and we’ve had good returns with that.”