Part of one camp in the Upper Carmi area where one family is forced to live because they cannot find an affordable home in Penticton. Mark Brett/Western News

City must ‘atone’ for its part in housing crisis: city planner

Penticton planner says a record level of developments can disrupt shelter for those on the margins

The City of Penticton has to “atone” for the displacement of renters of older buildings, as they are swept aside for record-level developments in the city, the planning director said.

The comment comes in the wake of a Western News feature on a family living up in the Carmi hill area, with one man saying up to 28 families live in the area — though he now says many of those families have left the South Okanagan to try their luck elsewhere, as winter approaches.

Related: The people of Carmi hill

It’s not just people on low incomes that have felt the wrath of Penticton’s red-hot rental market.

Penny Brown-Alvord said she and her family moved to Penticton from Red Deer in June, with the expectation that they would have to camp out for part of the summer, acknowledging the difficulties she would face with pets and a child.

“So we had already made the decision we would just camp, but we would watch for properties to become available, and then that way if we found something, great, then if not, we would wait until September,” Brown-Alvord said.

But Brown-Alvord said when she approached one property management group, she was rebuffed in a blunt manner.

“The guy in there was so ignorant. He was like, ‘why are you here?’” she said. “And ‘oh, you have pets? You need to go back to Red Deer.’”

Related: Moving forward from Highland Motel fire

The family was camping out on a site on Penticton Indian Band land, where Lavern Jack was allowing a number of people to stay.

“They were facing the same problems. They were having a hard time finding something affordable,” Brown-Alvord said, referring to other couples living on the campground this summer, where one couple is reportedly still living.

Brown-Alvord said they were looking in places as far as Princeton, but with a 10-year-old girl, they were getting anxious toward the end of the summer, needing a fixed address to register for school.

“I was replying to Kijiji ads and whatnot, and landlords, they didn’t get back to you,” she said. “We were frustrated with the whole system.”

Related: Motel fire highlights Penticton’s housing crisis

To get a hot shower, Brown-Alvord said the family had to go to the community centre, where it cost $20 to get into the facilities for all three of them.

“Which is fine. Those are the things that you pay for, but I thought about people who are looking for work, and how do they get themselves presentable?” she said.

Brown-Alvord said the family eventually found an affordable place in Peachland, though she said the process was “stressful as hell,” even though her family could afford more than others in the campsite.

City planner Blake Laven acknowledged that while record-level developments in Penticton means easier access to housing for people looking to buy, it’s been to the detriment of people in precarious housing situations.

“For every house that we kind of tear down to build new duplexes and new housing, we’re displacing families and rooming houses, where there’s four or five people living in a roommate situation,” Laven said. “Maybe two or three of them find other roommates to move in with, or two of them end up couch surfing and one of them might end up in the shelters or on the street.”

Related: Nearly two-in-five renters living in inadequate housing: report

A construction boom in the city contributes to economic development, but it has come at the cost of people on the margins. Laven said the city “has to atone for that, too.”

Brown-Alvord said her family has seen both sides of that coin — her husband easily obtained work in the construction industry, while they found difficulty, even as a middle-class family, finding a rental in a market with little interest in building units with tenure. She added things like summer vacation rentals and summer homes can clog up the housing market, with her family expected to move out of their current place by the end of April. But the city has indicated in past council meetings they aren’t looking to curb vacation rentals. A January email from former communications director Mark Parker obtained through a freedom-of-information request indicates much the same.

Related: Super 8 getting more than social housing

“We don’t want to indicate we are against them. As far as I know, we are in favour as long as they play by the rules,” Parker wrote in an email dated Jan. 17 regarding a Facebook comment calling for action on vacation rentals.

“This person seems to think the city should adjust property taxes based on the revenue from a vacation rental, and also impose rent controls — sorry, it’s Penticton, not Pyongyang. There are limits to what we can and should be wading into. But we have lots of pot shops, at least!”

Brown-Alvord said she’s comfortable with repeating a summer spent camping, saying it made for a great summer for her young daughter, spending everyday outdoors.

Laven said there might be some appetite for utilizing something like economic incentive zones to encourage more rental units. But, he said, the city is waiting to see how the opening of a Broadway Properties rental building on Kinney Avenue fills up when it’s completed, with a similar building from the same firm filling up long before it was completed.

Related: Super 8 social housing gets easy pass in public hearing

“We have about 2,000 rental apartment units in Penticton, so that’s increasing our number of units by almost 10 per cent,” Laven said. “I think we just wanted to see what that was going to do to our vacancy rate before we started incentivizing it.”

Among the efforts to curb homelessness, which Laven admitted the city was late to respond to, the old Bel-Air Motel has been converted into low-income units run by B.C. Housing, now called Fairhaven, while council has also approved another motel conversion at the old Super 8.

At the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention last week, the city was looking to get into a pilot program that will provide 2,000 units of modular housing at a low-income rate.

“Hopefully by the end of October, we’re physically going down to spend a bit more time on it than just the 10-minute sort of speed dating that you get, 15-minute speed dating that you get when you meet with the ministers at UBCM,” Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said.

“At this time no one’s really committing to anything, other than saying … they recognize the need for it, there’s a commitment to make this happen.”


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dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

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