Supporting tenants in a daunting market

Denise Titian, October 26, 2018

There are an estimated 300 homeless people in Port Alberni, according to the Port Alberni Shelter Society. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Port Alberni, BC — 

With an estimated 300 homeless people in Port Alberni and very few rental housing units available, more and more people in poverty are struggling to find housing.

Alvina Desjarlais works at the Port Alberni’s Kuu-us Crisis Line Society (KCLS) in the Housing Department. She sees upwards of 80 clients a month who are looking for housing in Port Alberni. She says it is especially difficult for single people living on social assistance, seniors and families to find a home.

A family could be living in a rental unit for years, paying their rent on time when suddenly they get an eviction notice because the landlord wants to renovate the house.

Desjarlais says a person could be renting a two bedroom that goes for $850 a month and two months later it’s being offered for rent at $1,300 a month.  

“Renoviction is becoming a common term; it’s a legal way for landlords to increase the rent,” said Desjarlais.

In addition, single people on social assistance receive $375 for rent.

“Nobody can find a place for $375 and so they’re forced to look for a roommate,” said Desjarlais.

The KCLS Housing Department offers a variety of services to help support people.  

Besides keeping listings of current vacancies, they also offer a community voicemail service. “Many of our clients don’t have cell phones or even home phones,” said Desjarlais.

The Community Voice Mail service allows a client to have a personal, local phone number that can receive voice mails from potential landlords, health care providers, employers or even family and friends. The client retrieves their messages by visiting the KCLS offices.

The KCLS also hosts small, informal gatherings that allow people in the same housing situation to mingle and get to know one another.

“Because of client confidentiality rules, we cannot match people looking for roommates,” said Desjarlais. The gatherings allow people to get to know one another and, if they feel good about someone, they may find a roommate on their own.

Another barrier in the rental market is lack of references. Many Nuu-chah-nulth people move to Port Alberni from their reserves or after having lived with extended family. Some are young adults looking for their first home. Without references, few landlords will give you a chance.

One way to get a reference letter is to attend a three-hour RentSmart Program offered by KCLS. RentSmart is a program designed to build life skills as well as knowledge around expectations of landlord’s and tenant’s rights.

Tenants want a safe, suitable, affordable home to rent; landlords want tenants to pay rent on time, respect neighbors and take care of their property. “RentSmart provides education and support to tenants, landlords and community champions with one goal: successful tenancies for all,” according to RentSmart.

Dejarlais is the only person in Port Alberni qualified to teach RentSmart courses and she is offering a basic RentSmart course on Nov. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the KCLS offices.

“We will talk about the importance of timely rental payment, budgeting and property inspections and more,” said Desjarlais.

Upon completion, the client will be given a letter written by Desjarlais stating that they have completed the course and, essentially, serving as a letter of reference to landlords.

“I’m excited about this; there’s lots of people out there that don’t have references,” she said.

Half a dozen people have already signed up but there’s room for more. The course is free and the program will offer bus fare, refreshments and food during the program.

Coming in December is the RentSmart certificate course that builds on the RentSmart basic course.

The RentSmart certificate course is several hours longer than the basic course and offers life skills training. Upon completion, clients earn a RentSmart Certificate which BC Housing recognizes as positive reference and lets housing providers know that the graduate has taken the time to learn how to be a good tenant.

The certificate can be verified by the landlord, therefore it serves as a reference.

To register for RentSmart call Alvina Desjarlais at 250-723-4015.

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