Vital People: Rental pilot project helps give people a fresh start

A pilot project involving local and regional housing partners hopes to increase housing access for vulnerable youth and young families by offering landlords a $5,000 financial guarantee.

Last year the Rent Smart Education and Support Society launched the RentSmart Guarantee Fund, an 18-month program that backs up education for tenants with a financial guarantee for landlords.

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The aim of the program, patterned after a similar program already in widespread use in the United States, is to increase private market rental housing access for those leaving transitional housing.

“The program is to help give youth leaving foster care and young families a fresh start in life,” said Andrew Holeton, the group’s director of operations. “The aim is to affect a long-term change in outlook by landlords. We want to prove that fears that some tenants who are viewed as high-risk are rarely realized.”

Holeton says that the program stresses education, clear communication and early intervention should problems manifest.

He says the program, which has launched in Victoria and the Lower Mainland in April, 2019, tackles the difficulty many low-income people face in finding and competing for affordable housing. The challenges are compounded by a critically low rental vacancy in the region.

“Finding an affordable place to live is hard enough,” said Holeton. “For applicants who lack references, credit history or rental experience, it can seem impossible.”

Research carried out by the society indicated that risk mitigation funds were a useful tool for increasing access to housing for people.

The program is funded by the Victoria Foundation and the Vancity Community Foundation. Four partner agencies, Aunt Leah’s Place, Y Young Moms, Y Pandora Youth Apartments and Pacifica Housing, are responsible for the selection of suitable candidates.

The pilot project covers 30 youth and young families transitioning to housing in the CRD and 15 in the Lower Mainland.

In order to ensure that participants are set up for success, one of the requirements is for them to complete a RentSmart certificate course. The course offers life-skills and supports to succeed in tenancy, with topics such as managing finances, communicating effectively, maintenance do’s and don’ts and tenant’s rights and responsibilities.

The financial guarantee to landlords is valid for 12 months.

Victoria and the Lower mainland were chosen to prove that the model’s robustness in two of Canada’s toughest rental markets.

After the program ends in December, the society will evaluate the results. If successful, it could potentially lay the groundwork for expansion provincially and nationally, said Holeton.

“We have a commitment to share the results of the pilot project with people who operate transitional housing across the country,” he said. “We also want to get the word out to landlords that if they give a person a chance, we will have their back financially.”

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