Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Terrace's Coachman Apartments topic of housing discussion in Legislature Tuesday

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross brought the topic of the situation of the Coachman Apartments in Terrace to the floor of the Legislature on Tuesday afternoon, with Mr. Ross making a number enquiries of Housing Minister Ravi Khalon as part of the exchange on housing.

The MLA introduced the topic with a verbal report of a tour he took of the facility over the Christmas period and the substandard level of housing that had been available.

I was quite shocked to actually walk through this building during the Christmas holidays and find the state of disrepair and the lack of maintenance. I do understand the complications surrounding the estate. I do understand the complications surrounding the estate. 

From what I can understand, the owner, the deceased owner, is in the United States, but we have a number of people that have been living in this building, knowing that they're actually gambling with their health because of the mould, some actually incredibly dangerous forms of mould, to boot. 

I understand the minister has been up talking with the mayor about this, on how to resolve this and talking about the legal complications as well. I'll start with a very simple question. 

Can the minister tell me how many residents are still living in the Coachman Apartments today?

In reply, the Minister provided a thumbnail sketch of the situation at the Terrace apartment complex, as well as to note that some alternative accommodation has been found for some.

It is a very challenging situation. Certainly, I've never heard of a situation quite like this. Just for the record, I think I can share with the people who are viewing that maybe don't have the background that this building wasn't in great condition. It was privately held. 

They had pipes freeze, and then the building flooded. People were displaced when the situation happened. Everyone tried to contact the owner who passed away — similar time. 

And So what complicated the matter even more was that, through our legal advice to…. It is illegal for B.C. Housing to expropriate the property. 

If the city would like to take possession, or seek possession of the building, they could do so, and then contract B.C. Housing for repairs. 

But there were legal challenges, I think the mayor highlighted, for them to even do that. Of course, we consulted our own legal advice on that. 

Now the building is not in good shape. B.C. Housing staff have been urging people not to stay there, because it's just not livable. I can share with the member that it's hard to know an exact number because it's been fluctuating. 

People have been going in. People are going out. The last I had heard, there were a couple of people in that, and it's hard to know exactly how many there are today. 

But I can share that 12 households have secured more long-term housing — so that's positive — from the work B.C. Housing was doing. 

I can share that we have about 19 households that are in hotels, that we're covering the costs for right now. 

We are actively looking at working with the mayor and council to find other solutions that are more permanent than the hotel, and we're making some progress. Once I can confirm where we're at, I'll certainly call the member and share that news with him. A very, very challenging situation.

Mr. Ross, noted of some of the frustrations for the tenants and for the City of Terrace as it seeks some kind of resolution to the situation, noting of the challenges towards legal action on the property towards effecting repairs to the existing facility.

I understand the legalities, especially when you talk about cross-border legalities in terms of the estate. 

But the question was liens. The mayor of Terrace already considered this question as well. I'm not sure of the financial capability of the municipal council to actually do something on their own without the province's support. 

In an emergency situation and given the crisis provincewide in terms of affordable rent and affordable housing, are there any emergency powers that can be utilized by the province to exercise placing liens on repairs — so the people living currently in this apartment, in these substandard conditions, can actually look forward to a healthier future living where they currently are — and for considering this building to be a place for the displaced people to move back, and also for affordable housing for more people living in the Terrace area looking for affordable rent?

The Minster offered up a timeline to date on some of the interaction between the Province and City of Terrace on the topic.

What I did share with the mayor was that if the city would like to seek possession of the building, they could do so, and then B.C. Housing could go and do the work, and go maybe the lien option, but we don't have the power, the levers, to do that ourselves directly. 

We advised the mayor and council that they themselves should get legal advice, because they may not have the power either. In fact, it's highly likely that they don't have the power, but we did advise them that we're willing to…. 

The issue wasn't us putting dollars in to fix the building. The issue was all the legal pieces around it to give us the ability to even go and do it. The mayor did raise that with me. What I advised the mayor at that time was get your legal counsel, find out from your teams what is possible, and if you think it's possible for you to go and do so, then let us know and we can find a solution. 

The fact that they haven't come back to us, it probably means that they don't have the legal powers to do it either.

You can review the full exchange on the issue between Mr. Ross and the Housing Minister from the Legislature Video archive starting at the 16:34 PM mark of the Tuesday afternoon session.

More notes on themes from the Legislature can be reviewed from our archive page.

The Coachmen Apartments, located at Sparks and Halliwell in Terrace have been of some concern for a number of months and have made for some extensive discussion for Mayor Sean Bujtas and Terrace council.

The full back and forth between Mr Ross and the Minister is worth a review, with a view of some similar situations found in Prince Rupert. 

This community faces many of the same concerns over affordable housing as Terrace does, with Prince Rupert also home to some uninhabitable building issues in this city that have still to be resolved by the City.

A look at housing issues across the Northwest is available here.


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