Wednesday, April 30, 2008

“Rent Bank Runs out of Money”

What’s this have to do with city politics, you ask?

A lot, I say. But it shouldn’t.

In the 2003 provincial election campaign Dalton "The Promiser" McGuinty’s said that he wouldn’t raise taxes. He was going to roll back highway 407 tolls and cancel P-3 hospitals. He wasn’t going to allow building on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

All these promises were broken … and more.

He actually did keep some - well, one that I can think of - and that was to create a provincial rent bank program. Good for him.

Ontario Rent Bank Program

The program, which rolled out within months of the election, provides money so that low-income tenants may apply to receive financial assistance to address short-term rent arrears. This small program was passed over to 42 service managers (municipalities ) to run which kept the provincial government somewhat immune to any criticism. (In some cases the municipalities contracted with agencies to actually operate the program.) Most of these local programs provide grants, but some operate by providing interest free loans.

According to today's Toronto Star the future of this program is in doubt.

The Future of Rent Banks

Up until last year I had many years direct involvement with housing emergency loan programs and with this particular program as well.

The province created an administrative nightmare for those operating rent banks. Fortunately, however, rent banks do help those they are intended to help - people with serious housing emergencies.

The whole concept is rather a stopgap approach to the serious issue of poverty. A parallel could be drawn with food banks. In 1983 the first was created in Edmonton as a temporary measure. Food banks are still with us. Here is hoping they will go away. Rent banks too.

In the meantime, while I hope that monies are made available to assist those with housing emergencies; the fact is the government can’t be let off the hook in addressing the big picture issue here:

Many of our fellow citizens do not have enough income to find and maintain adequate housing.

And that is something the province must take responsibility for and leadership on. Local government can be involved but the province must lead.

Rent banks do help but they are a very small part of the solution.