By Aygul Khalaileh
It has been almost a year since we announced the launch of our new and exciting pilot project, the RentSmart Guarantee Fund. We think it is time to give you a brief update on how this project has progressed so far.
The goal of the RentSmart Guarantee Fund is to increase access to rental housing for tenants that might have gaps in their applications. The Fund covers up to $5,000 in damages or arrears in rent for 45 eligible tenants in the BC Lower Mainland and Capital Regional District for 12 months. While protecting landlords from perceived financial risk, the project will give participants the opportunity to become established tenants. The project was born after our research indicated that risk mitigation funds such as this one are a useful tool for increasing access to housing for people who may be considered high risk tenants. Research of the models used in the United States and in Canada had also shown that these funds have a high degree of positive impact, particularly when combined with tenant education. To date there is only a handful of equivalent examples in Canada such as several Housing First programs that utilize operating funds to pay primarily for damages and move out expenses.
Since the launch of the Fund, we have been busy working out the legalities and formalities of the financial coverage to create a comprehensive set of policies and guidelines that encompass all aspects of the Fund, the application and claims process, eligibility, etc. We’d like to credit the City of Ottawa that generously allowed us to refer to the policy framework for a similar initiative developed by the City and adapt it to our purposes. The framework we have developed is currently under legal review, after which we’ll be happy to share it with any organization interested in implementing a similar initiative.
As we were ready to start covering tenants, COVID-19 struck and put everything on hold. Our project partners, Aunt Leah’s Place, Pacifica Housing, Y Young Moms Program and Pandora Youth Apartments, just like many other front-line organizations, were faced with crises and emergencies that required urgent response.
The essential element of the RentSmart Guarantee is the thorough tenant education that eligible tenants receive by completing a RentSmart Certificate course. We had to adapt and pivot to be able to continue offering access to RentSmart education (albeit in a virtual format) to the general public as well as eligible tenants participating in the project. We are currently continuing to look for resources and ways to be able to offer virtual courses to all participating tenants.
Some of the lessons we learnt so far:
- Eviction prevention. By design, the coverage of the Fund is meant to kick in after the landlord exhausts all other means including the security deposit. However, the goal of the project is to support youth to succeed in their housing journey, and we understand that sometimes claims may be used to prevent eviction, so the Fund will honor such claims, and the security deposit will remain intact.
- Roommate situations. We understand that this project does not fit well in roommate situations. This is because a participating tenant might end up being responsible for actions of a roommate who has not taken a RentSmart course, does not have the ongoing supports and is not as invested in succeeding. However, after consultations with project partners, we quickly recognized that due to the current affordability crisis, most participants of the project simply cannot afford any other arrangement. We decided to amend our policy to accommodate roommate situations. As this is a pilot, we are ready to learn and adapt as we go.
We are currently working on organizing landlord focus groups to get an insight into how landlords perceive this Fund, whether it addresses a gap in the market and how it could be improved.
We also see the current COVID-19 reality as a moment of opportunity for our tenants. The eviction moratorium as well as increased vacancies due to the limitations on short-term rentals will likely lead to better chances for tenants that come with supports, a thorough rental education and a financial guarantee.
If you are interested in learning more about our project or accessing some of the project materials, please contact us or visit www.rentsmartguarantee.org.