Living in fear of eviction

A development company that purchased a mobile home park in Chilliwack says they have no 'immediate plans' for the site, but seniors like Barbara Boehmer who live on that property think it's only a matter of time before they will be forced to leave.

By Joti Grewal | November 7, 2022 |5:00 am

A group of Chilliwack seniors could be forced to leave their homes. One resident says more needs to be done to help others in similar situations.

Barbara Boehmer pays $650 in rent at the Fraser Village Mobile Home Park in Chilliwack. That is manageable on her $20,000 pension. But the 74-year-old has been living in fear of being left homeless. Last summer, the owner of the park sold the property to Westbow, a Chilliwack-based development company.

Many residents in the 57-unit property on Wolfe Road are seniors living on “a tight pension,” Boehmer said.

“So there isn’t additional income to be sourced from anywhere except our savings, and they won’t last forever,” she said. “Not for the rest of our lives anyway.”

Westbow hasn’t increased the rental rate since taking over. But Boehmer worries that if the company decides to redevelop the property, she’ll be forced to leave and won’t find affordable housing elsewhere in Chilliwack.

“We have no options, and no place to rent. There’s no seniors housing,” Boehmer said. “I can rent an apartment maybe for $1,600 a month if I use up all of my savings to supplement my $650 a month rent. But how many years does it last?”

Waitlists for BC Housing units are continually growing. Last year, The Current reported the waitlist for subsidized affordable housing units had doubled in the last five years in the Fraser Valley. (We will have a follow-up story soon.)

Boehmer provided The Current a copy of the letter Westbow issued to Fraser Village homeowners, informing them about the sale of the property and the new property management team: ProKey. In the letter, Westbow development manager Jason Metcalfe writes “we currently have no immediate plans to redevelop the property.”

Metcalfe told The Current in a subsequent email that the company has not made any plans for the property and its status remains unchanged. The City of Chilliwack also confirmed there were no applications submitted regarding its development.
But Boehmer believes it’s only a matter of time.

Metcalfe wrote in the letter that Westbow “will be exploring a variety of different options for the property over the coming year or so.”

Some homeowners didn’t want to live in uncertainty. Owners of roughly 20 units sold their stake to Westbow. Some moved to Alberta and at least one person to Nova Scotia.

The remaining homeowners decided to stay. But in Boehmer’s case, it’s because she wouldn’t know where to go anyway.

The cheapest rental home available now costs $1,175 per month. That would leave a senior like Boehmer paying more than half her income in rent.

“We’re just waiting with no idea where to go after we get our year’s notice.”

Story continues below.

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AN EVICTION CRISIS

In 2018, the province amended the Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act to provide more protections for tenants. The new rules require park owners to provide 12 months notice to end a tenancy and new compensation. All residents are entitled to $20,000 and, if their manufactured home can’t be relocated and is valued at more than that, the park owner must pay the difference.

But Robert Patterson, a lawyer with the Tenant Resource Centre, says there are still gaps that need to be addressed.

He believes the issue is tied to the lack of housing for seniors and people on fixed incomes in the Fraser Valley. Market rates for one-bedroom units leave many out of the reach of seniors when they are displaced, and current compensation requirements are insufficient to make up the difference.

“BC is in the midst of an eviction crisis, we have the highest eviction rate in the country by a relatively significant amount,” he said.

Roughly 11% of BC residents who responded to the 2021 Canadian Housing Survey reported being evicted in the past—14% in Chilliwack and 13% in Abbotsford-Mission.

Patterson believes the way people are evicted needs a fundamental change. BC is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that puts the responsibility on the tenant to get proof an eviction is necessary—and oftentimes they don’t.

“Then the eviction happens without anybody actually checking, or asking the landlord to prove that they have a real valid reason to end that tenancy.”

The rules that now protect apartment renters should also be applied to mobile home dwellers, Patterson said. In July 2021, new legislation came into effect that requires landlords to apply for possession of a building with the Residential Tenancy Branch, which determines if ending a tenancy is the only way to complete renovations or repairs. That rule change for reno-victions has made it difficult for landlords to evict tenants unless they are doing extensive renovations.

Patterson thinks manufactured homes should get similar protection.

There are roughly 20 mobile home parks in Langley, Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack. The likelihood one of them will be redeveloped is partly dependent on its location and zoning. Mobile parks near town centres, where property values are much higher, are more likely to be redeveloped than those in the Fraser Canyon or in agricultural areas.

There are also worries in Hope about the sale of a mobile home park there.

“As property prices rise and development moves further and further out of urban cores and towards places where you have manufactured home parks, I think it definitely does expose people who live there to more risks than they have been in the past.”

THE ROLE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

After the sale of Fraser Village, the Lower Mainland Manufactured Home Owners Association brought their concerns to Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove in September 2021. Boehmer, who serves as treasurer, said they asked the city to create a redevelopment policy.
Patterson says municipalities can play a role in supplementing the provincial rules (although they also have to be careful not to conflict with them).

And many municipalities across the Lower Mainland have implemented tenant protection plans that outline how a landlord who is redeveloping a property must help tenants.

“They have to offer them housing in the new buildings at a discounted rental rate, they have to pay some kind of compensation for moving or general compensation at the end of the tenancy—and that sort of was like the baseline,” Patterson said.

Langley City and the Township have such a plan and Abbotsford politicians recently spoke about the potential need for such policies there.

In Langley City, for instance, seniors living in a three storey rental property on Fraser Highway will be provided relocation assistance and compensation when that property is redeveloped. The Current wrote in December about a developer application to construct a six storey, 200-unit commercial mix-use development. The project was given a third reading after a public hearing, but has yet to come back to council for final approval.

Boehmer would like to see similar protections in Chilliwack.

“The mayor turned around and sent an email saying that was not their problem. It was the province’s problem,” Boehmer said. “Even though other cities have made redevelopment policies as part of their bylaws, the City of Chilliwack was not interested.”

During the election, The Current surveyed Chilliwack council candidates about whether a new rental protection policy was needed. Of those who answered, all said yes. Respondents included four current councillors (a majority) but not the mayor.

People like Boehmer can only trust those at the council table plan to follow through and take action soon.

When Boehmer moved to Fraser Village 12 years ago, she hoped it was the last time she would be moving.

“This is where we intended to live out our lives.”


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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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