Lack of affordable rentals on the Coast: working mom with three kids homeless soon

(by Margot Grant)

Karen* (34) works at a store in Gibsons. She has three children (ten, eight and five) and a cat. She can’t find housing on the Coast and temporarily lives in a dilapidated trailer. She anticipates living in a tent starting June 1.

She can afford $1,100 a month including hydro, which is about 50 per cent of her income. Eleven hundred dollars seems to be the going rate for a one-bedroom, she says. She is willing to live in such a place; she has no choice. But landlords prefer to rent one-bedrooms to single people instead of mothers with three young children and a cat.

Until March 2016, Karen lived in a good place with a garden in Roberts Creek. It had two bedrooms and cost $1,100 a month, all included. However, the landlord wanted to use the space for Air B&B.

Karen and her kids moved to a cottage which another single mom sublet to them for $1,250 per month, hydro included. It was more than Karen could afford but they lived there for five months.

When the woman came back and they had to move out, Karen was able to rent a two-bedroom B.C. Housing apartment on Binnacle Avenue in Sechelt for $699 a month. Because it was deemed too small for a family of four, she was only allowed to stay for one month. But since a bigger unit was going to become available, B.C. Housing let her stay for another six months. Unfortunately, the bigger unit did not materialize.

Karen had a really hard time finding another place. She needed a roommate, she figured. But first she had to find a house, cottage or suite.

Several houses with rents between $1,200 and $1,600 were gone before she could phone.

She did manage to contact a landlord who had a house for rent for $1,600. When she arrived, three Vancouverites—singles—were bidding on it. The highest bidder got it at $1,900 a month.

“Why would a landlord turn away that kind of money?” Karen says. “I totally get that. But the market has gone crazy and wages have not increased. Two of my co-workers are struggling as well. Where do working people live? Where do single mothers find a place on the Coast?

“I’m a good tenant and I maintain the yard. I have good references. It does not count at all anymore.”

Karen eventually found a two-bedroom upstairs apartment on Gilmour Road in Gibsons for $1,740 plus hydro. One of her co-workers asked if he could be her roommate. It turned out to be a disastrous move.

The shower was only accessible through one of the bedrooms. The co-worker had insisted on renting it for $540 plus part of the hydro. Karen paid the landlady a $600 damage deposit for her $1,200 part of the rent.

The accommodation was not pleasant. “It was filthy, the dishwasher did not work, there was a gap at the door causing draft, the bathroom taps did not work, the outlets in the living room had no power, and there was no washing machine,” Karen says.

And in no time at all, a disagreement with the roommate developed. He did not like the family walking through his room to use the shower and started locking the door. What was worse: he did not pay anything.

Karen decided to leave. The five-week stay ended up costing her $3,000. The landlady did not return her damage deposit. Karen has lodged a complaint with the Residential Tenancy Branch in Burnaby. The procedure will take months.

The family was now homeless. Karen put her stuff in storage. The cat went to a foster home.

A friend of a friend offered her the use of a trailer for $650 a month. It has no bathroom and nothing works. It is dirty and it stinks, she says. The children do not want to be there. The two oldest stay at friends’ houses while the youngest can stay with his father. The children are mad at her, Karen says. “They ask me why other people have a place and we don’t.”

A friend with a small cabin offered Karen the occasional use of his only bedroom, which has bunk beds, so the children can visit with their mother. On the nights they are in his house, he sleeps on a shelf above the fridge because there is no other place for a bed.

At the end of this month, she has to leave the trailer because it has been sold. The friend with the bunk beds asked her not to visit overnight with the children after May 31.

Karen is thinking about buying a tent so she can spend the summer with the children. But when she inquired, she could not find a spot close to the washrooms on any campsite: everything is booked.

Karen has managed not to take the situation personally. “It is not my fault. It is an opportunity to see what I’m made of. There is a space for us somewhere. I’d love a tiny home. Something will come up.”

She is going to write to Gibsons town council. “It is not OK that houses are sitting empty. The town needs to do something about Air B&B because there are fewer and fewer places to rent for regular people. And zoning needs to change so that homeowners can build suites and tiny homes.”

*Because of her children, “Karen” asked that her real name not be mentioned.

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24 comments

  1. This situation is just ridiculous. People who work for a living should be able afford shelter.

  2. Our tax dollars and this single mom’s hardworking tax dollars are supposed to have programs in place to help with situations like this. Social services on the Sunshine Coast have a responsibility to help this women it’s what they are paid to do. I don’t care if they have to get special approval they are responsible to help her. We do it for refuge immigrants and she deserves no less…. a hotel should be her home until a worker is able to help her find proper clean,
    safe housing. My heart goes out to her and the fact she is still working and trying, instead of giving up, speaks volumes about her will and love for her children. I for one demand that social services step in and do whatever needs to be done to make this right.

  3. I hope this story has been sent to Christy Clark to show her just what’s happening in the real world of British Columbia.

  4. I had a simular experience on the coast and faced a lot of obstacles, trying to find a place for my self and my two kids. Something really does need to be done struggling people should have access to help. I’ve since moved out of province because I was able to find housing.

  5. I read the article today about the Mom with three children. As the landlord on Binnacle who offered her housing in a 2 bedroom unit, I wanted to correct some of the details in this story.
    Coast Housing Society has 21 units of family housing for those who qualify for subsidized housing. We work in partnership with BC Housing, but manage our intake list independently.
    This Mom was offered the 2 bedroom because of her dire circumstances. There was never any time limit to how long she could live in the unit. She was told that when a larger one became available, she would be transferred. BC Housing does have guidelines for the number of people requiring a certain number of bedrooms. However, in circumstances where a family is homeless Coast Housing Society will decide to offer housing that may be too small or too large if it is the only unit available at the time. The Mom was not asked to leave. Her current circumstances are tragic for the family.
    Shortly after moving, she called to ask to be put back on our waitlist.

    Tragically, this family is now included on a list of other families in similar circumstances here on the coast. Housing affordability and access is a serious societal problem.
    Coast Housing now has a wait list of 35 families for 21 units. As the readers of this will appreciate, vacancies are few and far between.

    Sincerely,
    Renee Switzer, Manager
    Coast Housing Society
    #22-5787 Binnacle Avenue
    Sechelt, B.C. V0N 3A6

  6. I knew, back in the ’90’s, when the media began to demonize Welfare (and even the B.C. N.D.P. government responded by proving they too were willing to scapegoat the poor) that homelessness and hunger would eventually begin to impact people with jobs and seniors, people who don’t qualify for Welfare. Public outcry, due to the media-exacerbated belief that anyone who needed Welfare was just lazy or a scammer, caused the social safety net to be dismantled to the point where it now barely exists. The welfare shelter allowance for a single person on Assistance (even if they are disabled) is $375–you can’t even rent a room for that! This is one reason social services can’t help this mother and her children. Tammy, who comments above, can demand that they do something–but they are not funded to do anything for the many people (the woman in the article is far from an isolated case) who need help to stay housed. The government is also not prepared to do anything effective to solve this greed-fuelled housing crisis.

    Working people, seniors, and the disabled

  7. The number of houses being used for b and b is deplorable. Money trumps community again and again.
    Ridiculously high rents are a big problem too.

  8. I know the problem is systemic. There are many people in Karen’s position.
    But is there anybody on the Coast who has a good place for Karen and her kids, with a reasonable rent? Let’s at least try to help one victim of the Liberal government. Nobody deserves to live like this.

  9. I rent several properties and every tenant I’ve ever has claimed to be a great tenant. some are, but some are dreadful, and when you have a bad tenant, the system favours that bad tenant, and makes it really hard to force the tenant to move. It has been my experience that after a bad tenant, landlords will seriously look at short term vacation rentals–tenants must move out in days, not months, and the revenue is better. Just like a schoolteacher, landlords want to make a decent income. Karen may be a wonderful tenant, I do not know her. The town of Gibsons is trying to change the demographic to a more wealthy one, to bring in better tax revenue. Witness the double digit water tax increases every damn year. The property tax increases way above inflation every year. Permit fees , DCCs, variances, etc etc all steadily increasing in cost, coupled with strong resistance to innovative (meaning low cost) housing whether tiny homes, laneway homes, structures per lot, etc, all of which would make more affordable housing possible. Haivng said that, because my investments were made years ago, I can rent out housing very cheaply by today’s standards….so of course I have nothing available.

    1. Correct me if I am wrong, please, but the water tax is a SCRD tax, not a Gibson tax.

      1. Not sure about Gibsons but it is both in Sechelt. Increased by 10% every year since I moved here. $250 to the district for water and $250 to the SCRD.

      2. We have water metering in Gibsons but that comes on your utility bill, not your property tax bill. there is a “Water Parcel Tax” on the property tax bill that isn’t connected to water metering.

    2. I agree with everything you say, Ken, having experienced terrible house-mates. It is in the interests of the elites who profit from the housing crisis to make the Residential Tenancy Act difficult for both landlords and tenants (I guess I don’t agree that it favours tenants because decent tenants are being screwed around too). The snotty 1 %ers don’t want rentals in their town! So, if you make it difficult to get rid of bad tenants landlords don’t want to rent out their space and, as for the folks who can’t afford to rent, well, the powers that be wish they’d just go away and die somewhere. This present situation isn’t good for anyone.

  10. This situation is horrible. My husband and I were talking about this when we bought our house 20 yrs ago. We wanted to split our yard which fronts on 2 roads and put in some affordable housing. We were told they had just changed the rules and we were only aloud 1 dwelling on our property. Everyone above on the street is splt, everyone below is not. There is a 3 plex and we are not aloud to even do 2. If they would change the rules I’m sure there are some people like us that would love to help out families like this one. Our property alone could support 4 families if aloud.

  11. Is there some way to help this woman? Is there someone we could give grocery cards or something who can get it to her?

  12. Looks like she get off that damn island and go east, way east, don’t even blink at Vancouver or Richmond, and look for something in Surrey. A gorgeous place like Gibsons is obviously going to be expensive. Unfair, unjust??? Heck ya! That’s BC, it’s been this way for years!!! I’m not surprised, poor kids. There’s lots of stores on the mainland to work at to. I don’t know her personal situation, I am only suggesting to get away from what is clearly not in her budget, for the kids sake.

    1. Where are you from, Anonymous? Gibsons is not on an island and Surrey is south, not east of here (at first I thought you were going to say move to the Maritimes), Moving farther and farther out into the burbs is no solution. There is a housing crisis in the entire Vancouver area–places like Surrey are just somewhat less unaffordable. Surrey is also one of the most crime-ridden places in B.C. Gibsons has not always been unaffordable even though it has always been gorgeous.

      Things may have always been unfair, but they weren’t always this unfair (I’m nearly 70 so I have lots of decades to compare this one to). What has been happening in recent years is an attack by society’s elites on the rest of us. To ask the poor to just keep moving to more and more undesirable situations shows a real lack of empathy on your part, added to your disconnection from reality.

  13. They want to DOUBLE my house insurance, this year, and I have an empty carriage house out back, would love to rent it out or fix it, but I too am a low income single mom. I have offered it for free for 6 months all year to someone who can help fix the plumbing and electrical, but no one wants to do the work or help. It will also raise my insurance even more, so if I ever had a chance to charge rent on it, half would go to the insurance company. Plus, up up up on the taxes, yay!

  14. We were turned down 12 different times because we have a small child nobody wanted the noise we were homeless for a week.

  15. I remember a former mayor of Gibsons, saying “affordable housing, whatever that means”. Hopefully we see some action but it’s a little too late for some.

  16. I’m a single (co-parenting) father of three young kids whose mom’s still live on the coast. I recently made the decision to leave coast when the lease was up on my dilapidated, rotting, moldy shack with a leaking roof, and burst plumbing that the landlord adamantly refused to fix.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not prepared to pay $1700-$1800+ for a dated, ugly two bedroom suite, just to be on the coast. The coast is nice, sure, and I had planned on raising my family there, but it’s past the point of realistic affordability. The rents in the area that I am now are under $1000 a month for a fairly new three bedroom townhouse near the fair sized town. That same townhouse would be around double that in Gibsons… IF you were lucky enough to win the bidding war on it.

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