Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Stark statistical count provided for BC Finance Committee when it comes to housing concerns in the Northwest

Even for those that have been following the discussion on housing concerns in the community for a number of months now, the presentation from the Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre at Monday's BC Finance Committee session would have been an eye opener.

The cold, hard account of statistics provided a fairly easy to understand picture of the conditions and desperation that is facing those at the lowest end of the city's economic scale these days, a theme frequently recounted at City Council sessions over the last few years.

Speaking to Monday's Committee session at the North Coast Convention Centre, Ulf Kristiansen from the Unemployed Action Centre outlined just how much has changed for renters in the city and the region in just four years.

Looking over his case files, Mr. Kristiansen who covers an area including Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert provided a stream of numbers to bring those clients to life for the Committee.

Noting that in 2013 he had seen 738 clients pass through his doors at the Fraser Street offices of Action Centre or other Northwest locations, with 38 of them outlining issues related to housing in the community.

By 2015 his case file numbers had grown to 1,249 clients, with housing issues of concern to 183 of those clients.

The Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre at
Fisherman's Hall on Fraser Street has seen growing
numbers of clients with housing issues over the last four years

The main issue when it comes to housing on the North Coast has been the ongoing theme of eviction, with Kristiansen noting that he had handled only three eviction files in 2013.

By 2014 that number had grown to 46, while 2015 brought 57 cases of eviction, nine months into 2016 his stats for the year to this point suggest that he has been dealing with a pace of one eviction a week.

I think it's no secret that there's a very, very low vacancy rate all over B.C. It affects our northern communities. I can't speak for the south, but in our northern communities, in my area — that being Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert — it affects tenants deeply.

The way it affects them right now is because of various reasons that construction workers here in Prince Rupert are coming to town.  The available rental housing that was there for people of limited means to rent has been taken up by construction workers with a lot higher income.

When I first started, there were empty rental units in Prince Rupert. There aren't anymore. They've been taken by construction workers. I think some of them were because of the building of the infrastructure in preparation for what we still hope is going to happen one day — liquid natural gas. Some of us are hoping.

Lately it's also in Prince Rupert because of expansion of the container port and building, I think, storage facilities and other things. Anyway, there are a lot of construction workers in town.

The impact of an influx of out of town workers has been one of the key impacts on the local housing stock for the clients of the Action centre, with the community advocate noting how many of the city's poorest residents are bearing the brunt of the housing crunch.

The result for my clients, who are the poorest of the poor, is that if they fall behind on the rent or are a little short on the rent…. Three or four years ago they were able to have the landlord give them a grace period. Now the landlord seizes the opportunity to evict them, because if he can get them out, he will have somebody in paying 1½ or two times the rent. Landlords are eager to do that in Prince Rupert. I know, because they come to me to deal with eviction.

He noted that his understanding of the current housing policies have left the Provinces to provide for funding for housing, calling on the BC Government to add to their current level of funding and to work on moving the Federal government back towards funding for social housing.

As far as I know, the only funding that is happening now or will be happening is from the provincial government. I'm asking the provincial government to chip in even more or to somehow work in cooperation with the federal government and try to persuade them to again renew funding for social housing. It's very, very much needed in our community and, I think, in many communities across B.C. where there's close to a zero vacancy rate.

To bring his presentation to a close, Kristiansen provided a sense of some of the desperation that people in Prince Rupert and other Northwest communities are feeling as they try to find shelter in a market where few options can be found.

Calling for the Committee to stress to the Provincial government of the need for more social housing in the community, particularly in areas where the vacancy rates are incredibly low.

I've had more than one client come to me and say: "I slept outside today." I've had a client sit in a chair in my office, teeth chattering, in November, begging me for help to find them a place to stay, and when he left, there was a pool of water by the chair because he had been outside. For that reason I'm asking the committee to recommend to the government that it somehow find more money for social housing in every community that has a zero or close to zero vacancy rate and where it does not look as if that's going to change any time soon.

The Committee members asked a number of questions related to some of the housing concerns, offering up some advice as to what has worked in other communities and areas where local support
groups may wish to explore.

MLA Rice noted that the local housing agency M'akola currently has a proposal in front of the provincial government for consideration and noted some of the efforts that the City of Prince Rupert has taken on the housing file as well.

You can examine the full transcript from the housing presentation at Monday's Committee session from the Legislature Archive website, that portal also features an audio link for those interested in the proceedings to listen to to hear the full range of testimony from the consultation.

For an overview of Monday's session see our blog item from yesterday here, an archive of all our features on the Committee consultation at the North Coast Convention Centre can be found here.

More background on the some of the housing issues facing the City of Prince Rupert and the Northwest can be reviewed from our Housing archive page.

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