Kelowna mobile home park residents want their rights considered by developer
Given the huge demand for new housing in Kelowna, developers are moving in to buy up older properties and redevelop them in the hopes of making huge profits. But residents of units in the Central Mobile Home Park want their rights considered before Kerkhoff Construction goes ahead and boots them out.
“There’s massive amounts of money that is moving into housing, and redevelopment money that's putting people out of where they’ve lived for years,” mobile home park resident Elroy Karius told iNFOnews.ca.
That’s created an unprecedented situation where land values have skyrocketed in the past two years so eliminating low cost housing in the park leaves many residents with nowhere to go.
Karius was in the home renovation business for 50 years in Kelowna, including in Central Mobile Home Park. He liked the area and was heading for retirement so bought a home there in 2019.
The following year, Kerkhoff bought the entire park for $15 million. It’s assessed at $17.4 million now.
In 2021, after that sale, Karius bought a second home so his sister, who just turned 73 and has disabilities, could live in the first unit.
He did offer to sell both to Kerkhoff but was told they weren’t interested at the time.
There have been some meetings with Kerhoff agents but the redevelopment of the park seems inevitable, even though Kelowna city council today, Feb. 27, deferred a proposal by Kerkhoff to start a planning process as the first step in redevelopment of the site.
Councillors argued that more input on the terms of reference is needed from residents and neighbouring property owners before approving the terms of reference for the plan. Nine neighbouring properties make up about five of the 30 acres that are to be included in the plan, most of which are owned by one person who is away from the city right now and not able to be involved in the planning process.
Residents, like Karius, are worried that their interests and futures are not going to get the attention they deserve.
Many are long term residents who don’t have the financial or physical capabilities to relocate. Some have been living there for decades. One of the units Karius bought was built in 1987 and occupied by the same owner until she died in 2019 at the age of 92.
“To Kerkhoff’s credit, people came and said: ‘If you sell, where will you go?’” Karius said. “I have no idea. I’m certainly not interested in a $600,000 or $800,000 townhouse. That’s not in my scope. Financially I have some capabilities. My sister certainly is not in that position. I have no idea where these people are going to go.”
Pad rental is $600 per month or less. Heat and light cost about $150 a month and taxes are about $300 a year.
“People who are in the $1,500 pension bracket can live here,” Karius said. “A new development in Rutland has studio suites available, I think, at $1,600 per month. I have a full two bedrooms, two bathrooms here. That would be $2,700 per month.”
There are some protections in place for such residents but those boil down to, basically, one year’s notice, after which Kerkhoff can buy the homes at their assessed values.
If that’s $100,000, rent at $3,000 a month will eat through that in about three years.
If a developer moves into any other neighbourhood with plans to redevelop, property owners have a right to choose whether to sell or not.
In this case, the 133 units in Central Mobile Home Park are owned by residents but not the land.
“Nobody has been asked: ‘Is this is in your interest? Is this what you want to see happen?’” Karius said. “Basically the plan is for redevelopment. I say it’s a death notice that has come out.”
When his sister asked the Kerkhof representative about where she could go when the park is closed, she was told she’s eligible for rental subsidies and she can put her name on a low income housing list once she gets her one year’s notice.
But, Karius said, that wait list is 3.5 years long. In addition, in order to get around a rule that the park owner has to approve new residents before a unit can be sold, he put his sister’s name on the property title. That means she does not qualify for the financial assistance because she owns property.
“I recognize the developer’s right to do certain things,” Karius said. “I think those rights need to be tempered with protections that we look at in the form of governments – city councils – to ensure that the balance of the community remains the same or, at least, is to some degree protected.”
The planning process includes a mention that housing affordability has to be considered along with things like urban design and engineering. Council was told that the developer is required to create a one-to-one replacement of affordable housing units lost when a mobile home park is redeveloped.
Councillor Luke Stack argued that requirement needs to be spelled out clearly, "bold, underlined and starred."
“We know of several manufactured home sales in the park that have fallen through when buyers become aware that a developer has bought the property, which has caused some concern amongst the tenants,” Kerkhoff said in its submission to council.
“We recognize the anguish that this transitionary period can cause people, prompting us to move forward with a request to prepare an Area Redevelopment Plan, and get closer to providing tenants with certainty, viable options and appropriate compensation.”
It's not clear when, or if, the planning application will return to council.
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