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Online accommodation taxes in Nanaimo going to help renters

Council opts to contribute $150,000 to monthly rent supplements, and $75,000 to a rent bank
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Nanaimo City Hall. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Nanaimo council is increasing funding for rent supplements and sending money to a local rent-bank program to help ensure low-income residents who have a home don’t lose it.

The programs are lifelines for people struggling to survive in poverty, Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said Friday.

Someone who moves, for example, might have to pay a few hundred dollars for a damage deposit, address change and utility hookups, he said — which could be a financial disaster for some households.

Council members voted unanimously this week to put $150,000 from taxes from online accommodation platforms into rent supplements. Money will be distributed to service agencies following a request for proposals or expression of interest process.

Rent supplements bridge the gap between what a household can afford to pay and the actual monthly rent.

Another $75,000 will be provided from the same fund to the Nanaimo Region Rent Bank, run by the Connective Society — previously the John Howard Society.

Rent-bank loans go to tenants who can’t pay rent or utilities because of a short-term financial crisis. Recipients must show they have the ability to repay an ­interest-free loan through a regular source of income.

Since 2016, the city has put $125,000 toward rent supplements.

A 2021 municipal health and housing action plan estimated that at least 6,000 people in the city are at risk of homelessness.

A homeless point-in-time count found that 433 people did not have shelter in 2020, but frontline service providers figure the actual number is closer to 600, city social planner Christy Wood said in a report to the city.

Many of those individuals and families have annual incomes of $30,000 and less.

The need for help is rising among people who have the most difficulty in lining up secure housing. A 2023 housing-needs report for the city listed them as renters with low or moderate incomes, people with special needs, seniors, families, youth, Indigenous people and those who are already homeless.

The $150,000 approved for rent supplements will deliver about 300 to 500 additional supplement payments between now and the fall of 2024, Wood said.

Rental households in Nanaimo climbed to 14,385 in 2021 from 10,955 in 2011, the city’s housing needs report said.

It’s also more difficult to find available and affordable units these days. Nanaimo median rents rose by 86 per cent to $1,350 in 2021 from the 2011 rate, she said.

The Connective Society Housing First rent supplement program received a total of $125,000 from the City of Nanaimo from 2016 to 2021. That money came from the city’s housing legacy reserve fund.

The society has received funding for its program from other sources as well, and there are other rent-supplement providers in the community. B.C. Housing, for example, provided 1,221 rent supplements to individuals, families and other agencies in the city last year, Wood said.

Most rent-supplement payments are about $300 per month, Wood said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com