A City-run program could help you pay rent. Are you eligible?
Posted October 19, 2023 10:45 am.
Last Updated October 23, 2023 12:09 pm.
If a tenant is behind on rent a landlord can move to evict them, but a long-standing City of Toronto funded support program — the Toronto Rent Bank — can help ensure tenants stay housed.
Founded in 1998, the Rent Bank was initially established as a response to a marked increase in the number of women and children using homeless shelters in the city.
“So the city at the time wanted to come up with a cost effective way to prevent homelessness and stabilize tenancies for women and children,” explains Gladys Wong, executive director of the Neighbourhood Information Post (NIP) — the lead agency administering the program.
The Rent Bank, run in conjunction with eight other social service agencies across the city, provides tenants with financial help to pay their rent and has expanded its reach over the years to include any low-income tenants living in Toronto.
The threshold for “low-income” is based on the size of the household:
|Family Size||Maximum household income|
To be eligible for assistance from the rent bank, the following criteria apply:
- The tenant must qualify as low-income based on the table above
- The tenant must have a steady income
- The tenancy must be covered under the Rental Tenancies Act (RTA)
- The tenant must not be receiving social assistance
- The tenant must be paying market rent
- The tenant must already be in arrears
The Rent Bank began as an interest-free loan program, but since last May, tenants are no longer required to pay back any assistance they received and all loans dating back to April 1, 2020 have been forgiven.
“The pandemic changed a lot of things, and as you know, a lot of people were experiencing hardships during the pandemic. So the city of Toronto made the decision of changing the program from interest-free loans to grants,” says Wong.
Wong says eligibility criteria did not change after the switch and they are in fact more lenient than they used to be.
“We understand that a lot of people are having a really hard time right now with the crazy inflation rate, so the last thing we want to do is to have people evicted … so we are being as flexible as we can and the income criteria, we are also being very flexible. So if [the tenant] is slightly above the threshold, we will still do the assessment and exceptions can be made,” she says.
For rental arrears, a tenant can receive a grant up to a maximum of $4,000 or three-month’s rent – whichever is less. They can also apply for a grant to help with last month’s rent deposit if they are moving into more affordable or safer housing.
For rent deposits, grant amounts are based on the size of the unit:
|Unit Size||Grant amount|
|Three bedroom or larger||$2,100|
“Last year, we gave out close to $6.5 million. And this year so far, I think we have given out a little more than $3 million,” says Wong.
When a tenant calls the rent bank [416-397-RENT (7368)], they go through pre-screening with NIP to determine if they meet basic eligibility criteria. Thereafter an intake worker from one of their eight partner agencies across the city will take over and assess the applicant’s financial and housing situation either by phone or in person.
“If the applicant would like to come into an office to do the assessment, we will assign an agency that’s closer to where they live or where they work,” says Wong.
“During the intake and assessment different questions on financial situation and housing situation will be asked and documentation will be collected. And then at that point we’ll determine whether the household qualifies or not. If they do qualify, and if everything is accurate and complete, then the payment will be sent out to the landlord directly.”
Wong adds they need a maximum of only five business days for the payment to be issued. It’s meant to be a one-time support grant, but tenants can apply again after 12 months if they need assistance again.
While the Rent Bank is primarily for financial assistance, intake staff at NIP and its partner agencies are trained community social service workers and are equipped to assess the applicant’s social needs as well.
“They will connect applicants to the services that they need — they will do supportive counseling, they’ll do budgeting assistance. So depending on the needs of the applicants, they’ll try their best to provide other kinds of social supports to ensure that their tenancies are stabilized,” says Wong.
In addition, if a tenant is in arrears above $4,000 and cannot cover the balance intake workers can help negotiate a repayment plan with the landlord. They can also help connect applicants to suitable housing.
“Our workers will definitely refer the applicants to the appropriate team, the appropriate workers to ensure that they get the help that they need in terms of finding the right housing.”