VICTORIA -- A pilot project that helps Greater Victoria renters who have fallen on hard times has been extended until March 2022, thanks to an injection of cash.

The Greater Victoria Rent Bank has secured almost $200,000 in funding from the United Way of Greater Victoria and BC Rent Bank, a project funded by the provincial government.

The rent bank program focuses on housing stability and homelessness prevention for low-to-moderate income renters in the Capital Region.

The money will provide various support services that help to stabilize a person's housing, including financial assistance, understanding and accessing community supports and mediation between landlords and tenants, just to name a few.

The need for this type of program has grown dramatically in the past year in light of the pandemic.

“The demand, when we started this program in February, we had over 100 applicants in the first week and we distributed over $300,000 in grants in 10 weeks,” said Diana Gibson, the executive director of the Community Social Planning Council, which runs Greater Victoria’s rent bank.

“People are often homeless because of a one-time crisis of health or employment, and once they’re in homelessness, getting out is harder,” she said.

“This program tries to help households bridge through that one-time crisis of health, or help, or employment, that if we can break them through, they can stay housed.”

The United Way started working in early 2020 as a convener and community facilitator to turn the concept of a rent bank into reality. The Greater Victoria Rent Bank opened its doors this past February as a three-month COVID-19 pilot program with seed funding and operational support from the BC Rent Bank.

“We’re so incredibly grateful to be working with the United Way Greater Victoria and Community Social Planning Council,” said Melissa Giles, project lead at the BC Rent Bank.

“It is through partnerships with local organizations doing good things on the ground that we’re able to advance our mandate of all renters in B.C. having access to rent bank support,” she said.

The BC Rent Bank provided $150,000 in new funding to extend the project until next year, with the United Way of Greater Victoria contributing $40,000 dollars in funding.

“Given the impact of COVID-19 on families and individuals in our community, we believe the Rent Bank is a strong solution to provide stability for households in need,” said Mark Breslauer, CEO of United Way Greater Victoria.

“We are proud to be a foundational supporter and invite others to join us to help more residents in our region to reach their full potential,” he said.

The Greater Victoria Rent Bank is continuing to seek additional funding partners to help meet the growing demand in the Victoria region.

“People are so grateful,” said Gibson. “The reason people are coming to us are so all over the map. Anything from a workplace injury to job loss during COVID – somebody who’s a chef for instance.”

“We’ve had couples, we’ve had families, we’ve had people with children, and we’ve had single parents and individuals,” she said. “Just a real range of households and all of them really in need. Often they haven’t been able to pay their utilities or their rent and they are in absolute crisis.”

Initially, the program was set up to help those in financial trouble due to COVID-19, but according to Gibson, it has seen a large number of people seeking help because their home has been sold, so they are needing help with moving and relocation. Rising prices in the housing market are really driving an ongoing need for the program, she said.

The loans provided by rent banks are small and interest-free, with eligibility assessed on renters having the ability to repay loans over a six-to-24-month period.

If you need help or want to find out if you are eligible for a loan, visit the Greater Victoria Rent Bank website here.