NOWHERE TO GO
VERNON - Not long after eviction notices were served to tenants of the Green Valley Motel, residents of another low-cost apartment building in Vernon are counting what they believe could be their final days.
The Belair Apartments on 32 Street, just down the road from Boston Pizza, recently sold, and that’s left tenants wondering if they too will be getting eviction papers.
One resident, who calls herself June, says she found out about the sale about ten days ago when a ‘Sold’ sign appeared on the front of the building. Given what happened at the Green Valley Motel, which was also up for sale, the news raised alarm bells.
“We haven’t been told anything,” June says. “The rumours go around… We were expecting even before this, some kind of notice, something to tell us how long we’ve got here. We’ve all been expecting it (since the building was listed a few months ago).”
Tenants of the 16-unit apartment pay in the ballpark of $600 a month, plus utilities, and many are on disability or old age pensions. It’s one of the cheaper options around town, June says, adding you’d be hard pressed to find something as affordable in Vernon. Falling on hard times due to medical issues brought June, who was born and raised in the area, to the Belair about a year-and-a-half ago, but she learned to love the place, and the people.
“People think of this place as scum,” she says. “I would just like people to come and live here for a week and get to know the people who live here, they’re wonderful.”
And the former landlord was good to them, June says. He looked after the place and responded to complaints. But since the apartment changed hands, that’s all changed.
“All of a sudden there was no one to go to if anything went wrong. We don’t know where to go, who to talk to,” she says. “People are very worried about where they’re going to go. Half the people have moved out of here already, and they (new owners) aren’t renting the units back out, so we know there’s something going on.”
The new owner, who also owns the adjacent Schell Motel, refused to give his name and declined an interview, saying his plans for the Belair are ‘up in the air’ until he finds out about rezoning the property. He wouldn’t say if there’s a possibility tenants will be evicted.
NOWHERE ELSE TO GO
Another Belair resident who asked not to have his picture taken, or name published, says he’s just waiting for the eviction papers to come, and has already started looking for a new place to live.
“It’s not going very hot,” he says. “It’s not easy. I’m wondering what’s going to happen to the poor guys down there (at Green Valley Motel). Where are they going to go? What happens to them, what happens to us?”
His budget is in the $600 range, and for that, his searches online, in newspapers, and through word of mouth aren’t turning up any promising leads. Most of the rent in town is ‘out of his reach’ he says.
“You get so much to live on for the month, you have to pay your rent, pay your bills, you’re lucky if there’s anything leftover,” he says. “I know a lot of people on welfare, disability, or old age — they may have to make a choice between food for them, or cat food.”
If he is evicted and can’t find anywhere else to go, he says he’ll be living in his car, something he’s done for one winter already, but would rather not do it again.
“A house is somewhere you can come back to, shower, chow out, and it’s where your friends can get together to talk, drink, just chew the fat. You can’t do that in a car,” he says.
But he’ll do it if he has to. He doesn’t have any plans to leave Vernon. His friends are here. He likes the scenery. Even if it means sleeping in a thermal sleeping bag in his car, he won’t leave.
“If it (eviction) happens, it happens. If it don’t, that’s even better. That’s a bonus,” he says.
"THERE ISN'T ENOUGH AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS IN THE CITY TO SUPPORT ALL THESE HOUSING CLOSURES IN THE SAME YEAR"
Kelly Fehr, the program director for the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan, says there’s a dwindling supply of affordable housing in Vernon, and no new rental units being built.
“Over the last five years, every year there seems to be a fire that burns down a low-income housing unit, or something is sold, or for some reason it closes down,” Fehr says.
Homeless prevention workers are already assisting residents of the Green Valley Motel find new places to live, individuals who add to the roughly 20 people a month already asking for housing assistance. Fehr can’t comment on the situation at the Belair Apartments, but says another apartment closure in addition to the Green Valley Motel could lead to an even bigger affordable housing crunch.
“There isn’t the affordable housing units in the city to support all these housing closures in the same year,” he says.
Part of the challenge in Vernon is not just the shortage of affordable housing, but the lack of supported housing.
“A lot of the people at the Green Valley Motel probably wouldn’t be capable of maintaining long term tenancy at a private residence, either due to addiction or mental health issues, or a variety of other disorders. They just don’t have the tenancy skills to maintain a clean environment and ensure their rent is on time,” Fehr says. “I think it’s fair to say, any tenant of the Green Valley Motel puts that on their reference list, not too many landlords would be looking at them.”
Supported, supervised housing is the key to lifting people out of that cycle, but there’s no funding for it in Vernon. The city remains too small to receive federal dollars for low income housing, and too big for the country’s rural housing initiatives.
“We continue to be stuck in a spot where not a lot of money is being pumped into our community for housing,” Fehr says. “Until a funding body starts providing funding or staff to operate a supportive housing environment, we will continue to see the shelters full, and continue to see people cycling in and out of short term tenancy.”
The John Howard Society continues to assist evicted Green Valley Motel residents, who must be out by the end of August, and extends the offer to anyone else searching for secure, affordable housing.
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