Below is a letter from MLA Jennifer Rice to the Minister Responsible for Housing, in which she asks for immediate investment for housing infrastructure in Prince Rupert and other communities in the Northwest.
September 19, 2016
Mr. R. Coleman
Minister Responsible for Housing
Room 128, Parliament Buildings
Dear Minister Coleman,
I am writing today to outline a variety of the housing issues that residents in Prince Rupert are currently facing. My constituency office continues to see an increase in the number of requests for assistance in finding affordable and appropriate housing in Prince Rupert. Service providers in Prince Rupert also report an increased demand for housing support services. With the Province’s financial update indicating a significant surplus, my recommendation is to immediately invest in Prince Rupert’s housing infrastructure.
Although the much-promised LNG industry has yet to result in single project coming to fruition, rampant speculation has created dramatic changes in the local real-estate market. Unprecedented pressure has been put on the limited rental housing sector, resulting in people being put out on the street, especially those who have limited or fixed incomes.
Aged Housing Stock
Prince Rupert has some of the oldest housing stock in the Province. We have a large quantity of war-time homes which used to be affordable homes for renters. Currently, I am witnessing a trend where long-time tenants in these homes are being renovicted with the homes being subsequently rented out at much higher rates, well beyond the reach of the previous renters.
The average age of homes in Prince Rupert compared to the rest of the Province is significantly older. Approximately 24% of the housing stock in Prince Rupert was built prior to 1945 with 6% of that being built prior to 1920, compared to the rest of the Province where only 14% of the housing stock was built prior to 1945 and less than 2% of the housing stock was built before 1920. We have seen minimal new builds in the last few decades and with almost half of the housing stock being a half a century old or even older, the options for safe, affordable and appropriate housing are limited.
BC Housing Units
The majority of social housing stock in Prince Rupert is in a state of disrepair. In a coastal temperate rainforest with some of the highest amounts of precipitation in North America, housing maintenance is an ongoing challenge. Chronic mold and rot from the relentless damp climate are just some of the problems faced by all home owners, as well as property managers, including those of the M’akola Housing Society, who are now responsible for managing BC Housing properties.
Many social housing units are uninhabitable and sit vacant. The housing replenishment regime is inadequate, and lacks sufficient funding. Service providers are unable to afford the much needed upgrades and improvements required to properly maintain properties to a habitable state.
Additionally, this spring, I tested selected BC Housing units for lead in water pipes and discovered elevated lead levels in the drinking water. As a result, a whole section of BC Housing units in Prince Rupert are currently on a water flushing regime.
Evictions and Renovictions
My constituency office, social service providers and poverty advocates in Prince Rupert are reporting an increase in requests for assistance with regards to tenants being renovicted or evicted for other, illegal reasons. One service provider in particular reports a noticeable difference between 2015 and 2016, with regards to the number of clients who are homeless and/or have been evicted. Local service providers and the resources available to them are being stretched to the limit while they attempt to find housing solutions for people in need.
In 2015, an entire community of mobile home owners and renters were evicted from the Port Edward Trailer Park because a speculator purchased the property in order to capitalize on a potential LNG boom. The initial plan was to develop housing for LNG workers at the expense of the local tenants. All the tenants have left or have been removed. Some have gone to homeless shelters in other communities, others are couch-surfing and yet, the property sits undeveloped.
Lack of Affordability and Availability
There are little to no options for single occupants living on social assistance, the shelter amounts provided by the Ministry of Social Innovation and Social Development are not sufficient to allow people to afford the rental rates in Prince Rupert. Aside from the prices, the availability of single occupant rental units is extremely limited. In 2004, one hundred low-rent apartments were lost to a fire and were never replaced. While the available housing stock has shrunk significantly over the years, the waitlist for low-rent or subsidized single units grows each year.
There is a lack of seniors housing and wheelchair accessible units in Prince Rupert. Many seniors and persons with disabilities are living in unsafe conditions while they wait for appropriate units to become available. Many of these individuals are waiting in earnest for units that seldom become available, and often they give up before finding appropriate housing.
There is no men’s shelter in Prince Rupert, which has long been identified as a need in this community. The pseudo homeless shelter that does operate is limited to just eight beds, and faces ongoing issues of bedbugs and violence amongst tenants, such that individuals avoid sleeping there. The North Coast Transition Society operates a Transition house for women fleeing abuse, however it has become a de facto homeless shelter for women and their children. The Transition House operates 20 short term beds and they turn women away every day due to overcapacity.
The housing squeeze has been steadily tightening over recent years; however, it has been further exacerbated and accelerated by the speculation resulting from the anticipated but not yet realized LNG industry. Market rental rates are now at Vancouver prices, but Prince Rupert still lacks the services, amenities and availability found in the lower mainland.
The housing challenges in Prince Rupert are impacting families, single people, working professionals, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal citizens, seniors, persons living with disabilities – essentially every demographic of our population has been affected one way or another by declining housing inventory and investment.
The issues I outlined above are just brief summary of the housing issues facing the people of Prince Rupert and the surrounding communities. These issues are varied and diverse, therefore solutions must be as well. I draw your attention to these challenges and urgently request that you consider the needs of Prince Rupert citizens for affordable housing and housing supports.
I look forward to your prompt response and to working with you to address the escalating problems facing Prince Rupert and other Northwest communities.
Jennifer Rice, MLA North Coast
NDP Opposition Spokesperson for Northern and Rural Health
NDP Opposition Deputy Spokesperson for Children and Family Development
David Eby, Opposition Spokesperson for Housing