Kitimat City Council on September 30th Began with a presentation from Stacey Tyers, the Poverty Law Advocate from Terrace on the topic of housing. She expressed that she has been dealing with Kitimat as well and she was prompted to attend the meeting after reading the article: COUNCIL CRITIQUES VOLUNTEER HOUSING COMMITTEE
“I have been working diligently outside of my mandate as a Poverty Law Advocate,” said Tyers. “My mandate doesn’t cover Kitimat. My funding covers the City of Terrace and the outlying areas of Thornhill. But, in about the last 6-7 months, we’ve been tracking phone calls from Kitimat, clients coming in from Kitimat, and my housing calls, in a month, range anywhere from 65 to 85 percent coming in from Kitimat.”
She expressed she has been working to try and build the capacity of Kitimat to handle the crisis. She expressed there is a housing crisis in Kitimat.
“There is mass evictions, illegal rent increases, illegal evictions, going on almost every single day here. It’s obviously of great concern to me. I’m having seniors phoning me who’s rent has been increased by $500, which is not legal but, because there has not been a long standing advocate in your community, people don’t necessarily know what their rights are, and they don’t know where to turn,” Tyers.
She expressed she is covering this as best she can, but Terrace has its own problems and she is only one person with limited time to deal with the capacity.
“Housing is actually a barrier to the economic growth that we are facing, and it people have nowhere to live, not just the community members already here, but the people moving here, our shelter is over capacity, every single month with people who are working but can’t find anywhere to live. Our local businesses are struggling to find support staff, so receptionists are moving out of town because they can no longer afford to live in our town and the same thing is happening in Kitimat,” said Tyers.
She expressed the housing committee is needed and deserves as much support from the Kitimat City Council as they can manage. She added Terrace is committed to the housing aspect as has allocated resources to their housing committee, given money for the reports they have put out and they are currently in the process of updating it because the needs have changed as much as Kitimat.
She stated the vacancy rates in Kitimat have dropped to 0 and senior citizens are being pushed out of their homes with nowhere to go. In addition, all of the communities in the area, Smithers, Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert are all facing homelessness.
“I really wanted to put forward the need for that housing committee and really inform you of what’s really going on because I’m hearing, day to day, what’s going on. If people in your community don’t know their rights, they’re really at a huge risk and it’s not only the lowest income bracket although they are the most vulnerable,” said Tyers.
She expressed that property owners can make money off of the projects which are coming to town, but she has a problem with them breaking the law to do so.
Tyers added she is doing a pair of workshops in October, one for Landlords and one for Tenets on what their rights and responsibilities are. The workshops are on October 19th and 20th. The same information is given at both, just from different perspectives.
She told Council there is not enough money for buildings and there is no treasure for it. They need to be aware that this is a real problem for people in Kitimat who are renting.
Mayor Joanne Monaghan stated they are not trying to get rid of the housing committee. “We need the housing committee. The Housing Committee looks after homeless senior citizens, people with disabilities and affordable housing. The reason we made the motion that we did is I was getting so many calls from people who work, are being displaced, affordable, this kind of thing was, let’s just break that affordable part out from this committee and just work on it 100% day and night and see if we can’t get something happening. The housing committee has to be there, that’s something we definitely need and we need it for all the different areas,” said Monaghan.
Councillor Mary Murphy stated they want to focus on the urgency so they can address the needs. She said there are government grants and financial support out there. This was addressed at UBCM with the ministers the Council met with there.
Councillor Corinne Scott told Tyers her presentation is timely. She wanted to know who funds her. Tyers told Scott the funding comes from the Law Foundation of BC. Tyers deals in Welfare Rights, Disability and navigating a government system.
Scott wanted to know why all the other communities, Terrace, Smithers and Prince Rupert, were able to participate in the Poverty Law Advocate program and Kitimat did not. Tyers expressed she did not know, but she believed it had to do with the agencies who were applying for funding at the time. Kitimat’s needs are being looked at and recorded.
Councillor Rob Goffinet asked for further information about the information sessions.
Councillor Edwin Empinado expressed what the motion was about. Council wants to respond proactively to the needs and a part of it is to develop a social development strategy. The committee is restricted by the terms of reference and their mandate. He thanked the committee for their hard work.
Monaghan reiterated that Council is not trying to dissolve the housing committee. “We have homeless, we have seniors citizens, we have affordable, we have all the different ones, four different areas but they all need to be treated the same,” said Monaghan. “We are looking at it. Thank you very much for bringing your incite and your statistics to us. We appreciated it.”
Tyers had one final thing to add. “As a chronic volunteer, I am chronic, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I know one of the questions was, maybe it’s not the right people at the table. I really follow the system where whoever is at the table or the people in the room are the people who are meant to be there. Our housing committee has been slow to get a lot of stuff done too because it really is a slow system that you’re working with and there is not a lot of money flowing into it like the way it did in the 90s or the 80s,” said Tyers.
Monaghan responded by saying the comment was made because she thought it would be better to have a developer at the table because they did not have one. Monaghan wanted a bank at the table so they could give the housing committee money.
Tyers replied by saying: “They just have to want to be at the table,”
There were no further questions from Council. Tyers returned to her seat and the next person got up to speak. The next person happened to be Margaret Warcup, who would be speaking on behalf of the housing committee. She would expand on the issue. Come back tomorrow to read about what happened next.