A new 39-unit social housing facility opened in Campbell River on Friday amid a housing crisis marked by escalating rents and low vacancy.
Terry Rose, the building’s resident caretaker, said that people moving into the building are happy just to have a roof over their heads, as he showed the Mirror one of the humble units of the former seaside motel.
“Everyone’s quite happy to be here,” he said. “(It’s) the fact they have a place they can call their home.”
Sixteen people have already moved into the 39 units of the former Travelodge at 340 South Island Hwy., and the building is expected to be full by the end of January, said Kevin Albers, the CEO of M’akola Housing Society, a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing primarily to Indigenous people.
Rent for each single-occupancy apartment is $500 per month, a price that’s well below the going rates in Campbell River. Hydro and water are included, but not Internet or telephone service, he said.
The Mirror viewed a modestly furnished studio apartment, which contained a double bed with a dresser and a television, and two bedside tables.
A kitchen counter was equipped with a mini-fridge, a hotplate and a microwave, and the small bathroom was newly renovated and included a full-sized bath.
The facility was previously expected to open in fall 2017, and Albers attributed the delay to problems including “the surprises that you uncover in a renovation” and finding contractors.
“In this marketplace – just a booming marketplace in residential construction – being able to find trades to actually do the work is very challenging,” he said, adding that similar problems have cropped up elsewhere in the province.
People apply for subsidized units through BC Housing, which evaluates need based on a number of criteria, including income. M’akola Housing Society then places people from that list into apartments as they become available, said Albers.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement that elders from the Indigenous community and other seniors, along with people with physical disabilities, would be among those who benefit from the new facility.
The building is owned and operated by the M’akola Housing Society, and the province provided $6.5 million in capital funding for the project, according to the statement.
A committee of residents at the neighbouring Silversea condos initially raised objections when the housing project was announced last year, saying they had been left in the dark about plans and arguing that it would reduce their property values.
Following a meeting with officials behind the project, the committee said their concerns had been alleviated, and during speeches by dignitaries at the outdoor opening event on Friday, a Silversea resident waved to the assembled crowd from their window.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena – who is also the New Democrat MLA for the North Island – said the new facility was a much needed project, especially for Indigenous people.
“People are struggling to afford a place to live,” Trevena said. “It’s especially true for Indigenous people, who we know are more likely than the non-Indigenous to be living in unsafe or overcrowded homes.”
A report on regional housing needs released earlier this year by the Strathcona Community Health Network said that rent in Campbell River has increased by 42 per cent over the past decade. Meanwhile, the vacancy rate has plunged from seven per cent to 1.3 per cent.
The report notes that seniors are among the most vulnerable when it comes to housing, along with people on low incomes, First Nations people and those with mental health or addictions issues.