Kitimat City Council turned into a debate on Monday, March 3rd on the topic of low cost housing. On the agenda was a motion to approve the siding of the Viewpoint apartments. This agenda item drew out people from Kitimat who were concerned the siding of the building would lead to further renovictions of the people who need shelter the most.
Eli Abergel, the president of Kiticorp, the company doing the renovations explained the challenges which Kitimat is facing during the communities growth.
“We realize that we are both part of the problem, and part of the solution,” said Abergel. He explained why rents are going up. “The cost of heating our buildings often takes up half of the rent that we collect, that labour is expensive and that the base haven’t been kind or willing to support residential projects in Kitimat until only recently.”
He explained, natural gas costs are three times the going rate locally. He wanted to work on solutions and is disappointed there is not a better plan for people who are being displaced
“We believe that working together, with the efforts of Mayor and Council, National businesses and primarily, the residents of Kitimat, we can identify solutions that improve the quality of housing in Kitimat and protect those who are most vulnerable in the community,” said Abergel.
Abergel reminded Council there was a report which came out two years ago about housing in Kitimat. The report came out around the same time they began to renovate the ‘vacant and uninhabitable’ apartments on Kuldo Boulevard.
“The housing development explained that with the economic development slated for Kitimat, that there would be a serious shortage of affordable housing. Now, two years later, we have a severe shortage of affordable housing,” said Abergel.
On the other side of the story, members of the community are concerned about the negative impacts on the people residing in the apartments. A letter written to Council expressed there are many vulnerable tenants living in the Viewpoint Apartments including elders, seniors, single parents with children, families and people with disabilities, people with low income and hard workers who are long term residents and are making a valuable contribution to the community.
“There is no place in Kitimat for homelessness,” concluded the letter.
Several Tenants asked Mayor and Council to take their side on the evictions. One of them stated the lack of affordable rental housing was a negative aspect to the growth which Kitimat was experiencing.
“There is a part of this community, which through no fault of their own, does not work for an industry, or a sub-contractor, or is a camp worker. These people will be gone when the jobs are done, we will still be here… Well, some of us will. Most of us, will not,” said Debbie Teves.
Anne Moyls, the Kitimat Housing resource worker, presented to Council. “When the notices of this application was mailed out, within one hour of its delivery, I received a phone call. One resident living with disability was in a panic and wanted to know if the application was an eviction notice. Also, within that same afternoon, I heard from another resident along with her family had already been renovicted out of their home in the Kuldo apartments last December. Thanks to an anonymous donation from the community, we were able to help her relocate to Viewpoint and secure a five month lease at double the rent,” said Moyls s
She then heard from another person who had been able to relocate from Kuldo to be evicted again. Moyls heard from another resident in her 80s who is legally blind, lived there for 20 years and has nowhere else to go. Moyls then received more calls on this and found about people who had received eviction notices back in January.
One resident is packing with nowhere to go. Another resident who has been here for 60 years is leaving to move down south. The stress level of renters is up and this stress is triggering mental illnesses among them in extremes not felt in years. Some are able to leave the community but others do not have the resources outside the community to do so.
Kevin Coelho, a local landlord not related to Kiticorp, also addressed Council. He told Council when rents were low, they could not afford to maintain their buildings. He even had times when he could not cash his pay checks.
He explained the rents started at rock bottom and Kitimat is now a boom town, it has gone from one extreme to another. The increases in rent is not due to greed, it ensuring the land lords are able to keep up with the costs associated with apartments and keep the buildings in shape.
Coelho explained to Council the average rent should be $1,029. He argued, even in the best apartments tenants are not paying this much so greed is not an issue. So far, he has had no need to renovict tenants because they have been renovating apartments as they become available. Similarly, he has not given rent increases to people who cannot afford to pay them, however, he pointed out that as a business owner, he does not have to do this, he simply chooses to.
However, he also told Council people in other communities who are living on assistance and cannot afford their rent often get a roommate. Kitimat was an exception where someone was able to rent an apartment while on assistance.
Moyls had already told Council that even if the low income people doubled up, they could still not afford rent, even with the subsidies from Northern Health.
Finally, Coelho told Council that having people who are not working and people who are working in the same building can cause problems at night, particularly when the people who are not working want to party. A Tale of Two Families
Two of the people who presented, a representative of the proponents and a person who had already been renovicted from Kuldo were among the people who presented to Council. Their stories were eerily parallel, pointed in opposite directions.
Desiree Wilson was the first of the two to present to Council. She told Council how she left Kitimat for a few months and when she returned, she found she could not afford the rent. She ended up sharing a bedroom with her son at a friend’s house.
Kiticorp offered her a job, and a place to live if she could work efficiently and pay her rent. She took it and she advanced through the company, doing construction and clean up. Now, she works at the City Centre Motel.
“Everything they have did for me and taught me has really changed my life for the better. 100%. It has completely changed,” said Wilson.
Mayor Joanne Monaghan agreed this was a good news story. Wilson expressed she is currently living in the Kuldo apartments.
Grant Yeager, a former Kuldo Apartment Tenant was in the first group to get renovicted. “In the process, my family was split up. This has been a really negative experience,” said Yeager. Yeager’s Fiancé is living with her parents in Duncan BC and Yeager is living with his in Kitimat.
Abergel had told Council that rental units had been put up for evicted tenants but only 30% of them had been claimed. He did not know why. Yeager explained to Council, the reason he did not offer to move him into another room was because it was $1200 a month. He was originally paying $484 a month. This was after a rent increase by more than what is permitted. He signed the paper.
“Shortly after, we got our eviction notice for it,” said Yeager. He told Council no one offered a place to rent until people started making noise about it. Suddenly, they got an offer to be moved into a new apartment for $1200 a month. Yeager explained at minimum wage, he could not afford both the rent and support his family so this was not possible.
Mayor Joanne Monaghan interrupted him at this point to let him know it unfortunate that no one had told him there was a subsidy which would make up the difference and if he had been aware of it, his family would still be living together.
Yeager explained the offer was much higher than the tenants could afford and they had no choice. “They did have a choice but they didn’t know about it, that’s the problem,” argued Monaghan.
Yeager told Council there were hard working people who were being evicted. He had been on disability for eight years before getting a job to support his family. He told Council he is proud of being able to get off disability and up to contribute to the birth of his son.
He knew about some of the subsidies but the rent increase was too dramatic. Councillor Mario Feldhoff stated the story hits home because it reminds Council there were things which should have been in place two years ago and now they are trying to catch up.SUBSIDIES
Other people talked about the various subsidies which were available as well. Pastor Don Read explained to Council he was informed of two subsidies in Kitimat. One was for Rent Assistance Program and the other was for Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters
He went to BC Housing and ran the numbers. The shelter aid subsidy and compared it to the monthly rent. If the senior had a monthly income of 2000, their SAFER subsidy would be for $3.70. Under the Rent Assistant Program, the RAP subsidy would provide a family of three with a two bedroom apartment which would run for $1,200, their subsidy would be $177.60.
Monaghan stated he should go to the other end where they are in the three hundred range, but the only way to get this is to have less income. Read told her there are different income systems but when the numbers are crunched, the less income you have, the higher subsidy you get. However, it all ends up at the same amount of money left over for other things.
“I think that as members of Kitimat, we need to be very careful if we’re going to think the numbers are going to fix the housing problems,” said Read.The Rental Increases
One of the topics which came up several times in the meeting was a rent increase which letter which was distributed to the tenants. They were given a week’s time to sign a new contract increasing rent by $200. If they did not, their landlord would go to submit an application to the residential tenancy branch and charge them between $500 to $700.
Councillor Phil Germuth wanted to know about this rental increase. He pointed out the provincial law permits a 2.2% increase this year, but these people were given a 40% increase and a week to sign a new lease. Abergel replied these tenants were paying an average of $400 a month and they were not trying to bring the apartments up to market rent, which is over $1000.
“We’re trying to bring our apartments up to a level where we can sustain them and heat them. That’s all that we’re trying to do. We’re asking our tenants by consent, to consider a reasonable increase so that hopefully, we don’t have to go and install a more efficient boiler system which requires a complete tear out of all the existing plumbing,” said Abergel.
He reminded Council Kiticorp does not own the Albatross Apartments, they are just renovating them. Sometimes things come up and they need to fix those buildings. If they have a maintenance issue which is too big to fix, they need to fast forward their plans and it is not something they have control over.
“With 50 year old buildings that haven’t been maintained over the last fifty years, and especially over the last ten years, we’re having to look at these issues. That’s why I suggest we try and find solutions that will make sure there is housing for people who may be displaced. In a normal market, there is vacancies, there are alternatives. We need to find the alternatives,” said Abergel.
Germuth asked why the landlord threatened to go through the application process to increase rent to $700 when they could go through the process to increase the amount by $200. Abergel replied they are trying to work with their tenants.
They are spending $200 a month on gas leaving $200 to keep the halls clean, mow the lawn, shovel snow, repair the roofs and pay taxes.
Councillor Mario Feldhoff asked if the rental units will be offered at their existing cost plus the cost of this maintenance to the current tenants or go to full market rent when this is done. Abergel said they would welcome involvement from BC Housing to finance the construction and provide rent rates at a lower income level. He added in other provinces, the Government would put up the funding to help with maintenance in exchange for a number of years of rent set at a certain level.
Read had a copy of the letter which was sent to the tenants which he read to the Council. He considered the letter to be illegal. It told them rents have been going up but they were still below the average of BC. It told the tenants the landlords could apply for a full increase in rent to the community’s current rates.
However, the letter offered a deal. If the two could not agree on a reasonable rent increase, the land lord would apply for a rent increase for the full current market rate. The letter told the tenant this would be a lot more, as the current market rate in Kitimat is $1000 for a one bedroom and $1,200 for a two bedroom.
The landlord gave the tenant one week to decide what to do. If the Tenant did not contact the landlord, the offer would not be available anymore because they would have started the process for a current market increase.
“This letter is actually illegal. Any rental increases need to be filed on their proper forms provided by the government of BC and this one is not there,” said Read. “I would also state that the manner in which the tenants have been approached boarders on bullying.”
He encouraged people who signed for the increase not to pay it. He added the application process to increase the rent of the apartments is on an apartment by apartment basis. He stated they would have to go through 80 rent review hearings for Viewpoint and this means it is simpler for the tenants.
Councillor Corinne Scott stated while it is true the Land Lords can raise the rent by only a certain amount per year, they can also raise the rent higher if they go through the Tenancy Board and are in their legal right to do so. This letter also has to follow a certain format which it did not. She added the rents being collected are much lower than the current one.
Read replied there are laws and regulations for the way in which people do things and Kiticorp is no exception to those laws.
Teves expressed she felt this was a cash grab because in some cases, the rent was being increased prior to an eviction. Following the eviction, the tenant would be able to rent again for more money. She could not see how seniors, low income people and people making minimum wage would be able to afford a place to rent. They would not be expecting a $500 increase in their cheques.
Yeager told the Council this happened to him. A man came to his door and told him he had to sign it that day or else it would go to an $850 increase, the latter he could not afford. “First we got the illegal increase. I agree with it, and I feel like a fool now, because apparently, I could have fought it because it wasn’t legitimate,” said Yeager.
Coelho explained why the letters are legal. They are because they explain what the land lord is going to do and give an option. He stated he has never had to do the application although he knows it costs $200 for the first one and the rest are next to free. They are all applied for at the same time. While it is a headache for the land lord, it would be more profitable for them to go through this.
He said that the rent should not be tied to personal opinion. It should be reasonable. He said $600 was cheap rent, even in Kitimat. Germuth asked if the money would be the equivalent of signing a new lease. Coelho replied it depended on whether a person was signing a lease or signing a month to month tenancy. He did not know if there was a difference in that. He said he would guess a lease would give security for this term.
Coelho expressed no matter what happens, in Kitimat’s current economic climate, either the workers are going to be displaced or the low income people. He asked why there was a possibility to deny approving a building to accomplish this.British Columbia’s laws for changing rent are available online, found by clicking on this sentence.
According to the documents presented here, landlords are able to apply to increase their rents to match similar units in the surrounding area but an arbiter has the final say in the decision based on a number of factors, including the cost of other units in the building itself and similar units in the surrounding area.The Eviction Notices
The eviction notices were brought up by Germuth. He stated the Viewpoint Apartments were issued eviction notices on January 22nd telling them they had to leave by the end of March.
“A part of the tenancy act says a landlord has to have all of the necessary permits and approvals required by law before you present that eviction notice. I don’t believe that all of those are in place yet, are they?” asked Germuth.
He was told they applied for all of the permits by Abergel. Germuth asked if they were all in place and if they still intend to evict the tenants if the permits are not in place by then? He was told they cannot evict those tenants if the permits are not in place.
Daniel Feldman, Director of Kiticorp told Germuth they had 100% of the permits were in place for renovating Albatross. They talked to the building inspector for the permits for the following changes: Carpets, hallways, fire system, doors, windows and they were told none of the items required a permit.
When they went back for plumbing, electrical and siding, they were held up because they needed community consensus on how the buildings were going to look. Because this was a longer process than getting a building permit, the District suggested they get all the building permits at once so they do not have to go through the whole process multiple times.
Germuth suggested they move the people into other rooms while they do the renovations but Feldman told him there were enough units. They had to gut the entire building, kitchens and even bathtubs are coming out.
Feldman explained that 50 year old copper pipe at a 90 degree angle has a tendency to wear out when the water is turned off and turned back on again. It is impossible to replace one pipe without disturbing all of the pipes. They have to replace all of the pipes. It is not like fixing a leaking roof where they can fix it without evicting the tenant.
Germuth asked where they need a permit. Municipal Engineer Tim Gleig stated they would have to change the locations of all of the internal plumbing to require a permit. He reminded Council, the district was asked to approve the exteriors, not the interiors.
Feldman had to clarify for Council they were not gutting the apartment like he had said, they were simply removing the fixtures. This just makes it look like a gut.Who is Responsible
Some of the arguments came down to who is responsible for what is going on in Kitimat. The proponents singled out the BC Government.
“With the BC Jobs and Growth plan for the North, there is more to do from the Provincial Government than talk about the Provincial Budget, Deficits and Trade. There are infrastructure and planning issues which need to be addressed,” said Abergel.
He explained Council the Provincial Government has a mandate to address affordable housing. There is no comprehensive plan for affordable housing in Kitimat and the province is not pushing to create anything affordable.
He told Council they need to talk to the province and get them to address the solution. It will become more difficult for people to find housing as more people come to Kitimat. He added Rich Coleman has dedicated $300,000,000 to develop social housing in Vancouver while there has been no headlines addressing the North. He did not know how many developers were building provincially backed housing.
Murphy stated Terrace has been successful in getting funding. However, Kitimat has not been successful at getting funding because: “We are relying on non-profit societies and funding and builders and people to come forward to do that and at the end of the day, we own it so we’re going to have to make it happen,” said Murphy.
She said they will have funding as projects go forward and Mayor and Council are meeting on this on a regular basis and they need to step it up. Both parties came to the conclusion that both Council and Kiticorp are pushing on the government for extra funding.
Kiticorp expressed they are willing to work with Council and the Province to revitalize Kitimat. They need to make sure the province understand the community needs a new bridge and wharf but also fill the need to take care of Kitimat’s residents.
Read told Council he feels Kiticorp is responsible due to the rent increases which went through. applauds them for renovating the Kuldo apartments but he is concerned about how they conduct themselves.
He suggested they apologize for the duress they put on their tenants to show they are a responsible company. He also suggested they repay all the money to the Kuldo Tenants for the rental hikes in 2013 and 2014.
Feldman expressed buildings which were owned by responsible people did not need to be upgraded the same way these apartments had. He added it was unsafe for people to live in these buildings prior to the renovations.
He also pointed out is bizarre to see Vancouver get $300,000,000 to create low income housing, Terrace receives money to build low income housing and Kitimat, which is BC’s fastest growing community receives nothing to help solve its problems. He promised to dedicate as many crews as necessary towards the effort to build housing, but he does not want to lose money in doing this because it does not make sense.
Brad Hildebrandt said the landlords need to make money and asked Council to do what Vancouver is doing. Their Council is putting in $900,000,000. He asked the businesses to work together to try and get an affordable housing project built this year.
“We need something before the snow flies again. It has been said we are a booming town and people of all types will be coming here and they might not be working the big money jobs. They might be making minimum wage,” said Hildebrandt.
Councillor Germuth agreed, Kitimat needs to find a way to do something as affordable housing is not a municipal responsibility
Finally, it was pointed out by the proponent the permit does not have to do with most of the conversation. It just has to do with the community saying how pretty the building is going to be and what colour it is going to be.
Abergel told Council they are willing to work with the community to bring in low income housing. They want to see the Provincial Government fund it because as Kitimat gets bigger, this will not be easier.
“We live in a complex time, the solution to our housing issues are also complex but I’ll tell you something that isn’t complex, it’s how to do business in a way that benefits all the community,” said Read.
When it came time for Council to make a decision, Council wanted comment from the Advisory Planning Commission for their information. They were supposed to meet about this topic but lost quorum for their last meeting.
Abergel said it would be like the exterior on Kuldo. Regardless, Council will be waiting to hear back from the Advisory Planning Commission, Councillor Corinne Scott was opposed.
Wilson and Yeagar told parallel stories of gains and losses.
Daniel Feldman presented the aspects of the renovation to Council.
Moyls explained what the tenants were going through. Kevin Coelho explained the ins and outs of being a landlord.
I would like the RCMP to comment...
Totally confusing to say the least.....