Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Housing Discussion on Renoviction themes points way forward ... to more discussion

A Delegation led by the Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre
provided some background to the renoviction issue in Prince Rupert
as part of Monday's Council Session

The topic of rentals and renoviction  consumed close to one hour of the near ninety minute Council session on Monday night, but as was noted by Mayor Herb Pond towards the wrap up of the talking points on the night, no solutions to the issue would be found on the evening.

And while much was said over the course of the fifty minutes, the only consensus that seems to have come from the session was that there is a need to readdress the city's guidelines on renovictions and that more discussion to explore the theme will be required.

The presentation as part of Monday's Committee of the Whole Session featured Housing Advocates Paul Lagace and Arnold Nagy from the Prince Rupert Unemployed Action Centre along with a Delegation of residents from the Harbourview Apartments all spoke to the issue of Renovictions in the community. 

Mr. Lagace and Mr. Nagy using some of their time to outline the scope of the Renoviction situation in the community as we near the end of January, observing  of the volume of evictions that they have seen tthe through their office in the last sixty days.

"The reason we are here tonight, on a busy month I get five evictions that are questionable. In the last two months I've had forty and most of them had to deal with renovations. So it's an exceptional number in two months I don't know if I had that all year." -- Paul Lagace on the renoviction issue in Prince Rupert 

The Housing advocate  observed for the Council membership how he wasn't against landlords and developments,  however he did observe as to how some landlords are more reasonable than others.

Mr. Nagy provided the introductions for their delegation from the Apartments and noted that the discussion was taking place on the unceeded territories of the nine allied tribes of Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla. 

Their guests shared some personal observations as to how the renoviction from their homes in the Harbourview complex would deliver additional hardships towards them as they seek out rental accommodation in the city with few units currently available for rent.

Mr. Nagy picked up on the theme of rising rents noting how Council would be seeing this situation coming back often with Seniors on Fixed incomes and those on Single incomes trying to find affordable housing in the town.  

"I think that as time progresses ... this year, you're going to see this same issue come forward more and more often. 

And that is Seniors on Fixed incomes, single incomes trying to find affordable housing in this town. 

And it's coming to the point that an Elder like Sylvia, should not have to face the option of being homeless.

There's so much wealth in this community, it's unconscionable that what we see happening and people being put out on the street into a market with less that 1 percent. 

To be honest with you, if I didn't own my house I couldn't afford to pay the rent market that's being asked today and I work 52 weeks out of the year, full time and that's the reality that's coming"-- Indigenous Housing Advocate Arnold Nagy

One member of the Harbourview delegation provided background to the current state of the Harbourview Apartments and how those in the building being asked to leave have nowhere to go, asking Council members if they are here to protect the community, or just to protect outside investors.

Mr. Lagace did provide some notes of the scope of the staged renovations that will eventually impact on seventy families in the various blocks of the Apartments that overlook the Seal Cove area of the city. 

He also observed that the ownership and management of the complex was doing more than is required, but used the forum to share commentary on  how those measures won't provide enough for the tenants to find adequate accommodation. 

He then turned the discussion towards some of the flaws he sees in the City's own Renoviction guidelines from their bylaws, outlining the areas of note from those guidelines that he observed offers up the belief that renters have protections, that they don't have in his opinion.

Offering up a recommendation that Council repeal that area of concern when it comes to their Bylaws as it's not effective towards the issue.

"If that's not going to protect them, because it's not. A Landlord can get the order, if they can do all the work for the city, it's easier to get an order, just repeal it. 

Because folks believed they had protection, I don't believe there was any ill will here with this , but it did cause a lot of confusion" -- Paul Lagace

He also suggested the City follow the lead of New Westminster, from which Prince Rupert muddled its bylaw, in order to revisit the protections that are offered, seeking a dialogue towards that element of renewal when it comes to the renovation areas of concern, delivering something that will complement the Residential Tenancy Act.

Towards those revisions Mr. Lagace noted a need for a Community Forum and open dialogue that may offer Council with some direction towards those changes, offering to assist the city in organizing such a structure if they wish.

"It just hurts me to think that somebody who has worked here all their life and worked and give everything would have to move. 

Where are they going to move? 

That's a whole other thing, because Terrace, Kitimat, Smithers all of BC is dealing with this.  

It's not going away, but if that could be brought in a community forum revisited ... I think that there is a medium that could be done ... 

If there was something in the city power to do so, the courts have said you can, so let's have an open dialogue as a community"   -- Paul Lagace

Councillor Cunningham led off the discussion from the view of the City's elected officials,  asking for some legislative guidance from Mr. Lagace on housing issues, though the Councillor was advised that he would need some time to compile the notes that the Councillor was looking for.

Mr. Cunningham then observed that he saw no reason why Council could not revisit their bylaw and its guidelines, noting how they had mirrored New Westminster who had changed their own legislation which now leaves him to observe  towards where Prince Rupert's bylaw is falling short.

"I see no reason why we can't revisit it and take a look at it. 

You know like we mirrored New Westminster thinking the protection was there and then New West repealed section six and we didn't repeal it, we put in section 45, which basically does the same thing.

But it's very confusing the way it was done and you know when you look at it now, you think what the hell is going on, excuse me ...

I for one would be open to revisiting it and looking at and see what we can do"  -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

The Councillor did note that the renovations were needed for the complex in question, but did wonder why the existing tenants could not be shifted into other units in the other buildings.

He also observed over the recent volume of housing approvals that Council has given, but noted that the City can't make anyone build anything, a situation which has contributed to the housing crunch in the community.

Mr. Cunningham also noted of the growing issues towards Senior housing availability and all spectrums of housing in the community.

Mayor Pond observed of an upcoming Housing forum to be hosted by UBCM in April and how housing is clearly a significant issue in the province.

Councillor Terri Forster asked for some clarification on the level of evictions that Mr. Lagace's office has received in the last two months and the nature of the buildings where renovictions have been put in place, as well as if it would be safe for residents to stay in those buildings as they are bering renovated.

Among his notes, Mr. Lagace noted of the challenges that have been found in Prince Rupert towards extensive timelines for construction in the community and how that also factors into the issue.

Ms. Forster, observed of her willingness towards further discussion  with the community towards the City's bylaw to ensure that it provides what residents of the city are looking for it to deliver.

"I would be open to having a further dialogue with community, because ... I like many people in our community had thought that the bylaw that was passed last year meant something different that what it did" -- Councillor Teri Forster

Councillor Nick Adey's contribution to the conversation included his observations towards the development of the bylaw now in place and how to him the heart of the issue is how the city had hoped to offer protection of the interests of the tenants, while also allowing some room for improvements of the buildings to take place. 

Further noting that the language of Section 45 undercuts what they had chosen to do and how it basically allows the owner to go around whatever the City said and go to the Residential Tenancy Brach for permission to proceed.

Mr Adey also reflected as to why more wasn't done by Council at the time of crafting the bylaw and how that work has led to the questions towards it on the evening.

"I'm not quite sure why more wan't made of it by us, in terms of the tension that's created between those two sections, cause it seems to me that the outcome is what you've described.

I think you're being fair, that the outcome is, we can say all we want about you know requiring landlords to do this that and the other thing, in terms of protecting the tenants interests.

And you've been fair in pointing out that this particular landlord has gone above an beyond in terms of what they've offered.

We end up crashing on the same rock and that is that the developer can go to the tenancy branch and ask for permission that bypasses all of what we can determine at the local level.

So what do we do about that? 

I agree, that there needs to be continued dialogue because, because you know having both those sections doesn't make any sense. 

So it seems to me that , that dialogue needs to also include the Provincial, starting with the MLA I would think, but the provincial government has to be a part of that dialogue.

Cause we need to develop something that would allow communities to offer a fair and consistent and supportable, or enforceable way of resolving these circumstances. We don't have that now" -- Councillor Nick Adey

The Councillor observed of the empathy that Council members have with those that have been impacted and how the way to address it is further dialogue in the community and with the province. Though also noting of his frustration that it doesn't solve the situation ahead in the short term. which he noted was a challenge to find a strategy to address it.

Councillor Wade Niesh provided what he described as a builders perspective to the issue, noting of the days when the pulp mill shutdown and houses were available cheap and many of those who stayed in the community purchased those homes, with BC Housing then tearing down their own stock as the demand declined. 

He observed as how the community has since regained its economic footing, the supply of housing has not kept up with the demand, noting of the need for repair and how the situation in Prince Rupert is a challenging one towards renovation and rebuilding those structures.

Like Mr. Cunningham, Councillor Niesh observed of all that the city council has done to encourage  building in the community and recounted his own challenges in building towards his own plans for rental units owing to the unique and hard conditions that Prince Rupert makes for builders in the community.

"Now where I think, you know our problem is. 

Is that you know, no matter how many developments, no matter how many things that we've offered to developers. 

You know whether it be good land available to them for relatively cheaper prices than say the big City.  

Whether we've given free building permits, we've given all these things to try and encourage people to build here.

But I know myself, it's very difficult to build in, it's a hard town to build in. 

I'm currently building a place myself for my own self and it's taken me months and months to get out of the ground because of the conditions of this land"    -- Councillor Wade Niesh

He also noted that there is a need for BC Housing to move forward on the housing that they have proposed and provide for the basic housing that the community needs, observing of the lack of progress to date on those units that are supposed to be developed. 

Towards those comments, Mr. Lagace noted while the most vulnerable are the priority, that a lot of the working class residents and even those in the middle class in the community, don't qualify for BC Housing. 

So they would still be looking for housing or looking to leave the community.

Mayor Pond noted for the Council members and their guests on the night that the purpose of the engagement underway wasn't to solve the problem that evening, but to hear from the group on hand towards their issues of concern.

Councillor Cunningham spoke to the short and long term issues of housing in the community and called on BC Housing to change their policies to reflect the need in the community.

As for the short term issues he had no answers which he described as scary, calling for open dialogue and host a workshop in the next few weeks to try to find some solutions.

The fenced off and unused housing stock of BC Housing made for
some of the discussion on Monday evening  

Mr. Nagy returned to the themes of BC Housing and observed how many of the units on McKay remain empty and fenced off.

To that issue of the progress of the BC Housing themes in question on Monday night, we outlined what the latest notes were from the Housing Agency related to the development last Friday.

Mr. Lagace further suggested that one option could be for the city to create a Housing Committee for the community to use as a forum for dialogue towards bringing all sides to the table to explore the issues on housing in the community. 

The housing advocate noting how that option has been used in other communities. 

You can review the full presentation and subsequent observation of the Council members from the council Video Archive, the conversation on housing opens the night's events.

As we noted in our item related to Monday's Public Hearing, the City had released on Monday a Request for Expressions of Interest with BC Bid towards two housing proposals in the downtown area. 

Something that would have been perhaps a helpful note to the dialogue on the night related to the housing and renoviction issues.

Though with more discussion on the way to the issue, perhaps they'll be able to dig a little deeper into those initiatives as they move forward on the topic.

More notes related to the Monday session can be reviewed through our Council Timeline Feature.

A wider overview of Housing themes in Prince Rupert is available from our archive.

1 comment:

  1. What is unconscionable is the lack of community standards.

    Terrace has a housing committee which provides monthly updates.

    This would provide a forum to discuss housing needs, bylaw infractions and next steps to uphold standards. Lastly it would provide updates on new housing developments.

    How much dialogue is needed in order to establish something similar?