Duncan Cameron from the Delta Mobile Home Park says neighbours will struggle to find a new place to live after receiving eviction notices two weeks ago. Residents of the park say they believe the land will be redeveloped into something less affordable, as fears of gentrification circulate at another low-income housing location in Penticton — the Mayfair, Meadowlark and Sun Valley motels. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Fears of disappearing low-income housing in Penticton

Tenants of low-income motels on Skaha Lake Rd. fear new owners will redevelop into high-end housing

On the office door of the Mayfair Motel in Penticton, a slip of paper is causing at least one resident of a neighbouring motel anxiety.

The paper is a notice to tenants dated March 29, the day ownership of the Mayfair, Sun Valley and Meadowlark motels, a row of three properties on Skaha Lake Road, changed hands. Tenants at the monthly low-income rentals are now asked to direct cheques to Skaha Developments Ltd.

According to Western Investor, the three properties were sold together for $5 million; the land title for the Mayfair names a numbered company, 1155300 B.C. LTD., as the new owners.

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The recent sale has some residents concerned about an apparent trend of gentrification — redeveloping low-income neighbourhoods or housing into upper-end projects.

“The three properties have been accepting of people who are in lower income brackets,” said Linda Sankey, executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society.

“The higher cost of rentals in the community continues to increase, so those three monthly rental motels were one of the places that were still more in the affordable range for a lot of people on lower incomes. So there is some concern about what will happen with them.”

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Sankey said there are around 60 units in total between the motels, but likely more than that live there, with many of the one- and two-bedroom units housing more than one person. And the rumour mill has already begun to turn.

One resident of Sun Valley said he heard tenants had two years until the new owners planned to tear the motels down and build up.

“It sucks. Now I’ve got to find a new place to live. There’s nowhere in Penticton,” that resident said, adding that low-income housing options are “absolutely dwindling.”

That rumour, which the tenant said came from the former manager of the motels, does not appear to be substantiated. Penticton’s development services director Anthony Haddad said the city still hasn’t received any inquiries from the new owners, and Sankey said the former manager of the motels had only expressed fears that the motels would be redeveloped.

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However, fears of gentrification may have some ground to stand on. The new owners list Phillip George and Jeff Irving as directors, both of whom are involved in Seacliff Group’s board of directors.

Seacliff Group lists three development projects on its website, all of which are large and luxurious. They include the six-storey, 104-unit Watermark at Sechelt and The Rise in Vernon, a 534-acre development with room for up to 800 housing units.

Related: Rise sold for $20 million

The Skaha Lake Road motels were rezoned for CD3 “comprehensive development” after Penticton City Hall received proposals in the mid-2000s. While those plans died with the 2008 recession, Haddad said the mixed-use commercial and residential zoning remained, offering potentially 10 to 15 storeys in upward development.

Haddad added that while the zoning is in place, potential developments would still need to apply for building permits. Neither Seacliff Group nor the motels’ new property managers responded to multiple requests for comment.

Fears of gentrification at the Skaha Lake Road motels come as similar rumours spread around the Delta Mobile Home Park. Last week, up to 40 tenants, largely low-income pensioners, received eviction notices.

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Residents who spoke to the Western News speculated the evictions were a business move by owner Fred Kruger, who did not respond to a request for comment. Residents suggested Kruger had not been making money on the park, and some looked to relatively new apartment buildings across Airport Road for answers.

Similarly, a fire last summer at the Highland Motel dramatically displaced up to 30 people among Penticton’s most vulnerable population. But for those residents, it was already moving day with new owners preparing to replace the motel with high-end townhomes, currently under construction.

Many motels that do offer monthly rentals evict tenants during the summer to provide daily accommodations for tourists at a higher rate.

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The Slumber Lodge Motel on Lakeshore Drive has typically offered monthly rentals year-round. But the motel also changed ownership last summer, going to Holiday House and Pleasant View Motel & RV Park owner Shanguang Wang. Wang was the centre of local controversy in 2014 after a tenant claimed high expenses for poor living conditions at the Pleasant View.

Wang confirmed with the Western News in a Tuesday phone call that the motel would switch to daily rentals for tourism season, after a resident had passed on the rumour in February. According to that resident, most of the tenants were seniors on pensions.

In a town where about half of the renters are paying 30 per cent or more of their household income on shelter and one in five renters are spending more than half of their income on shelter, housing is a challenge.

Related: Penticton vacancy dips below one per cent

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But for the residents of the Delta Mobile Home Park, the Highland, the Slumber Lodge and the Skaha Lake Road motels, many of whom are on pensions, income assistance or disability, finding consistent housing is especially challenging.

That’s particularly true in the summer, when the city’s population swells with seasonal residents and tourists.

“We are losing some of the lower-end of the rental spectrum within the community,” Sankey said. “Which is placing some hardships on people who are having fewer options to choose from with a growing number of people needing that low-end of market rental option.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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