The City of Prince Rupert has decided it will deal with the growing shortage of affordable housing in the community after what some councillors say was a disappointing response by the province on the topic.
The shortage of housing options available to those living in poverty in Prince Rupert is something council has been discussing for months. In September, the city brought a resolution to the Union of British Columbian Municipalities (UBCM) Conference, which received support, requesting that the province create a poverty reduction strategy.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but of course the province has to take that on,” Coun. Anna Ashley said on Oct. 6.
Poverty is a concern of city council with homelessness on the rise in the community, partially attributed to a shortage of affordable housing in Prince Rupert.
At the UBCM, members of council met with Rich Coleman, B.C.’s Minister Responsible for Housing and the Minister of Natural Gas Development, to discuss the subject, informing the minister the situation is getting more extreme and that additional affordable housing units are needed on the North Coast as it goes through a period of hyper-activity.
Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem said Minister Coleman was aware of the concern.
“The minister did advise that the ministry will provide another 20 assisted housing units here and another housing support worker,” Mussallem said.
“He didn’t give specifics as to when, but obviously they’re acting in anticipation of our concerns.”
However both Ashley and Coun. Barry Cunningham said they were disappointed with the response they received.
“As much as we were trying to push that this is a concern for our community and the areas around us … there was not a lot of support from the provincial government for us in terms of saying they would be there to help us,” Ashley said, stating that adding a few new rental subsidies isn’t enough.
Coun. Nelson Kinney pointed out it’s not only those living in poverty who need affordable housing, but also senior citizens, which increases the demand of low-income rental units.
“The apathy the provincial government showed toward the housing situation was sickening as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t believe it when I sat there,” said Cunningham.
Mussallem told the Northern View he did not share this view.
“The provincial government overall gave us a good reception,” he said.
“They were receptive to what we had to say. I think any time you get various national and international companies and entities wanting to spend million dollars in the region … you do get the interest of federal and provincial governments.”
In the meantime, community organizations such as the Prince Rupert Unemployment Society are trying to deal with housing issues arising from the influx of workers coming along with proposed development.
For Ulf Kristiansen of the unemployment society, this has meant an increase of 50 per cent in his workload as the organization experiences a spike in the number of tenant-renter issues it is dealing with.
“Most of that is helping low-income tenants fight eviction notices,” he explained.
Kristiansen said two years ago Prince Rupert had a renter’s market, but this changed with the arrival of project employees. As construction workers rent apartments, homes and even hotel and motel units that were previously been empty, landlords are now able to charge more.
“As a result, landlords who in the past would turn a blind eye to late payments and other things that could be used to justify an eviction … are now using every reason under the Residential Tenancy Act to evict,” Kristiansen said.
“They look around and see their fellow landlords renting similar units for one and a half to two times the rent. If they can evict a tenant, they aren’t stuck with the 2.2 or 2.5 per cent rent increase (set by B.C.’s tenancy branch). They can rent it for whatever the market will bare,” he also said.
While Kristiansen is unable to provide homeless numbers, he said he has a number of clients who are without a place to live.
“I have clients that sleep outside. I am worried about that because of the fact that winter is coming.”
But the provincial government isn’t going to help Prince Rupert with its residents living in poverty and the growing number of homeless unless the city finds a way to help itself, stated Coun. Gina Garon.
“I think we need to get quite a few different people in the community together to try to come up with some kind of solution,” Garon said.
And that’s precisely what community groups like the Prince Rupert and Area Ministerial Association (PRAMA) and Kaien Anti-Poverty Society (KAPS) are trying to do.
Vice chair of the PRAMA, Reverend Jason Haggstrom, invited city staff to engage in a conversation about the community’s social housing needs and other issues Prince Rupert faces as it prepares for growth by email, which was included in the Oct. 6 meeting agenda.
“We would like to know how ministries of the church could assist the city in planning for the economic boom and the social issues that arise from the boom. We as a group want to know how we might get involved and involve our respective congregations in positive ways to help our fellow citizens,” reads the request.
Furthermore, the City of Prince Rupert agreed to proclaim Oct. 17 as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in the community, as per request of KAPS.
This year’s theme is “Leave No One Behind”, with KAPS partnering with the Salvation Army to host a luncheon for community members who want to join the fight to end poverty in Prince Rupert. The event is taking place on Oct. 17 between noon and 1 p.m. at the Salvation Army, with everyone being welcome to attend.
Anyone facing a tenancy issue or who is homeless is encouraged to visit the Prince Rupert Unemployment Society on Fraser Street or contact Ulf Kristiansen at 250-627-8776.