Port Alberni city council is taking action on another “deplorable” property in town.
Council agreed during a meeting on Monday, Nov. 23 to impose remedial action requirements on the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, across from the bottle depot.
Manager of Community Safety Gaylene Thorogood said on Monday that the property has been “in a state of decline” for a number of years and consumes resources from various city services. The property, she said, is negatively impacting the community and creating safety concerns for residents and neighbours alike.
The owners of the property are Martin Chambers, of Folded Hills Farm, and Randy Brown. Another building owned by Chambers—the Harbourview Apartments—has already been slapped with a remedial order.
Brown, meanwhile, has owned the Wintergreen Apartments for about five years. Up until summer 2018 he co-owned Harbourview Apartments with Martin Chambers, and he still owns Rack and Rally on Third Avenue as well as an empty lot on the corner of Argyle Street and Second Avenue, where a commercial block burned down several years ago.
A more than 100-page report includes photos, taken over the course of a month, of exposed wires and garbage on the property of the Wintergreen Apartments. A few illegal alterations have been made to the building, with no plumbing, electrical or structural permits.
The property is also home to a number of trailers. Brown began moving trailers in behind the Wintergreen Apartments several weeks ago. He has five trailers and recently allowed a man with a small motorhome to move onto the property. He said he is offering a warm place out of the weather for people who are hard to house. “It’s not about (feelings), it’s about getting them off the park bench and into something with a roof,” he said in an interview with the Alberni Valley News.
Brown said he has spent nearly $3,000 on plumbing to connect trailers to the city sewer line on his property. He has extension cords running from each trailer into his building, and said he has been filling the water tanks for renters.
Thorogood said she doesn’t know exactly how many people are living on the property. “They have a lot of people in them,” she said. “There’s an electrical room that has people in [it]. I understand that the trailers have more than one person in each trailer, not necessarily from the same family.”
“Some people are sleeping under those trailers, too,” added Councillor Cindy Solda. “Again, we have a slum landlord not looking after the people. I feel that no one should live in those deplorable situations. [The rent] goes in his pocket without him fixing it up. When I look at the pictures, it just really upsets me when I see that.”
Brown said he is charging up to $500 for single renters and $375 per person if there are two or more in a trailer. He said he gives “clean trailer” rebates if the trailers are kept clean.
The city bylaw department has ticketed Brown almost daily for numerous zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers, motorhome and other issues with the building and grounds. “It’s our intention to enforce to the extent that we can because of the seriousness of what’s going on on his property,” city CAO Tim Pley said in another interview.
Brown said he has no intention of paying the fines. “Not a chance.”
Council voted on Monday to impose a remedial action order on the property. The owners will have 30 days to fix up the property, which includes the removal of all trailers.
Mayor Sharie Minions described it as a difficult choice, as the removal of the trailers will add to the homelessness crisis in Port Alberni.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” she said. “At the same time, we know that as a result of this we will immediately see additional pressures on an already challenging homelessness situation.”
Pley said on Monday that the city will work with BC Housing and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to find housing options for the people who have been living in the trailers.
“We’ll certainly work with other stakeholders to ensure that if people are displaced by city action that there’s somebody standing next to our staff,” said Pley. “The best we can do is keep people safe with the tools that we have and lean on others to provide the services that other governments provide.”
Brown claims he acted because no one else has come up with a better solution. “Legally or illegally, it’s going to get done,” he said.
“[Brown] feels deep in his heart that he’s supplying a service,” said Councillor Ron Paulson on Monday. “If he was supplying a service, he would take care of those buildings and make sure that those people are housed in a dignified and clean, healthy way.”