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Loss of condo building not helping Vernon's housing crisis

A 12-unit condo complex at Arbor Lee Apartments was badly damaged when fire broke out July 10, 2017.
July 13, 2017 - 2:46 PM

"WHERE ARE THESE PEOPLE GOING TO GO?"

VERNON - The John Howard Society is calling for desperately needed investments in affordable housing following a recent apartment fire that displaced nearly 30 people.

Kelly Fehr, the society’s co-executive director, says a devastating fire at the Arbor Lee condo complex earlier this week underscores how vulnerable Vernon’s rental market is.

“It’s unfortunate when we have such a low vacancy rate in a community like Vernon does and we struggle with citizens finding housing and then you have a tragedy that happens, like an apartment catching fire, and that just adds to the problem,” Fehr says.

Residents like Ed Imhoff are already worried about finding a place to live after the fire forced him out.

READ MORE: Finding housing the biggest concern now for Vernon residents displaced by fire

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. There’s no rentals,” Imhoff says.

According to fire officials, it will likely be months before people can return to the building.

Residents will find it tough to secure housing with Vernon’s rental vacancy rate last pegged at just 1.9 per cent. The influx of people searching for rentals will also make it harder for those already looking, Fehr says.

Ed Imhoff outside his damaged condo unit July 11, 2017.
Ed Imhoff outside his damaged condo unit July 11, 2017.

“It’s that many more people that may be in a higher income bracket and may be able to take up some of the units becoming available. It absolutely makes it that much harder for people on minimum wage or on disability,” he says.

He says they had the same issue several years ago when a large apartment complex near the hospital burned down.

“It just eats up the available units in your community,” he says. "It speaks to the dire need for investments in affordable housing.”

The society’s homeless prevention coordinator Maggie Metz has been assisting a steady stream of people looking for housing since the program launched in 2014.

“It’s increasingly becoming more difficult (to find housing),” she says. “Not just affordable housing, but a variety of housing that can meet a person’s needs.”

With such a low housing inventory, she says landlords are able to charge what they want and can be selective with the tenants they choose, often leaving those on fixed incomes out of luck. Many are left staying in campgrounds or public spaces, including Vernon’s Polson Park, where an estimated 20 to 30 people have taken shelter.

“When people are on the fringes living in public spaces as a result of poverty, I think it’s incumbent on the community to stand up together for all citizens. The people living outside are also citizens of the community,” Metz says.

The camp in Polson Park has been the focus of considerable debate in recent weeks, and an online petition implores government to “make Polson Park safe again.”

One conversation on social media this week shifted to the idea of possibly building tiny homes for people in need, and that’s an approach Fehr is behind.

“I think we’re not doing anyone a service when we’re always looking to the government to find solutions for community problems. I think it’s great when private citizens have the ability to contribute to the community like that. If people are willing and able to add additional units to the community, that’s a bonus,” he says.


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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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