Clara Rempel fears she will soon have to start living in her car again.
The senior citizen has been living at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel since January, but the motel is switching to its summer rates as of May 1, which will see her rent skyrocket.
Rempel collects $1,600 a month in old age pension and is currently paying $900 a month in rent at the motel for her unit. But when the summer weekly rates kick in, her rent will rise to almost $1,500 a month which would leave almost nothing for food and other expenses.
“I’m not sure what to do,” she said as she discussed the situation with some of the other families and individuals impacted by the impending rent hike at the motel. “The costs of living keep going up but I’m on a fixed income. I understand that the motel is a business that must make money, but I don’t want to be homeless again.”
The residents of approximately 19 units at the hotel have been living there long term under the winter rates, and many others fear they will soon be on the streets as well.
Sylvia Jack has been living at the motel with her partner and son since January. She said she had spent time homeless and couch surfing at the homes of friends before and has been trying hard to get back on her feet while staying at the motel. Jack is also looking at a rent hike of more than $400 a month that she can’t afford.
“I keep looking every day for somewhere else to live, but it’s hard because there’s so few places available,” she said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do. There’s a lot of other people here who are in the same situation. It’s hard on all of us.”
The manager of the motel said winter rates help people who need it in the colder months, but it’s common practice for the motel to switch to summer rates on May 1 to take advantage of the busy summer season.
“These people are certainly welcome to stay here, but we are a business,” said Doug, who declined to give his last name. “It’s a good thing they have places like this to stay because a lot of the rental units on the market these days are crap.”
Keith Simmonds is a minister at the Duncan United Church and a member of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing. With the vacancy rate in the Cowichan Valley currently just around one per cent, Simmonds acknowledged that the region’s homeless crisis is not getting better any time soon.
“Rents have risen phenomenally over the last two years and it’s possible we could soon see a record number of people having to live on the streets in the Valley,” he said. “What we need is a positive, proactive and thoughtful process in this community to try and deal with this and we need local governments to show leadership. North Cowichan is currently working towards helping through a number of initiatives, including densification on existing lots, and that’s the kind of programs that are required.”
But for Patricia Bagley, who has been living at the Falcon Nest Motel for the past four months with her five-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, time is quickly running out to find an affordable place to live.
“I’ve been checking newspapers and online to try to find a place, but with no luck,” she said.
“I have family and friends, but they have just enough space in their homes for their own families. This is the first time I’ve been in this kind of situation and I’m scared for my family.”