Nov. 15, 2019 – The Fairfield Hotel at 1601-1609 Douglas St. will no longer be run by Pacifica Housing. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Subsidized housing evictions climb in Victoria

Closing of Pacifica Housing’s Fairfield Hotel a sign of ongoing trend, advocates say

More low-income, high-acuity people are being evicted from their Greater Victoria homes, and the trend is only likely to continue, say housing and poverty experts.

The Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) has seen a significant increase in housing evictions in the past four months, especially from occupants living in Pacifica Housing units.

“We’re seeing someone come in almost everyday,” said Doug King, executive director of TAPS. “It’s dramatically increased.”

King said a majority of the people coming in have been evicted due to financial issues, namely not making the rent.

“If a tenant is behind on rent, in the past Pacifica would work with them and maybe do a repayment plan,” King said. Now, he said, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Fifteen people were issued eviction notices from Pacifica’s Fairfield Hotel at 1601-1609 Douglas St., which Pacifica recently announced it will be releasing from its operations. The 62-unit building currently houses 51 people.

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“The problem is if they are going to have to leave that building, we don’t have other suitable housing,” King said. “The only other logical place is the street.”

Pacifica Housing director of property services, Jenn Bouton-Stehle said she’s aware of the eviction increase, but that the problem is regional.

“There’s a housing and economic crisis, even among our working tenants,” she said. “We’re seeing a significant problem with chronic non-payment of rent. We’re a housing-first agency, but even in a housing-first agency we still need to collect rent.”

Bouton-Stehle emphasized that Pacifica does everything in its power to make sure evicted tenants can find new housing options with regional housing partners, or have the resources to do so themselves.

“The problem is if they’re not paying rent, it’s really hard to find them somewhere to go,” she said. “As far as I know, nowhere is taking tenants for free.”

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On average, the rent at the Fairfield Hotel is $440 per month, though one person hasn’t paid in two years, and many others are far behind and unable or unwilling to pay.

Damage from tenant-to-tenant conflicts can also cost Pacifica up to $2,000 per day, and additionally visitors and break-ins can cause property damage. Often people break in to use the shower facilities in the building.

In total Pacifica was in the red for $116,000 for the Fairfield Hotel in 2018, despite receiving $500,000 in subsidies from the City of Victoria over a 10-year period. Pacifica will pay back what remains from the grant pro-rated.

Bouton-Stehle was adamant, however, that while costs were a consideration in closing the establishment, a larger concern was that the aging building was not suitable for tenants’ needs. Between all 62 suites there are only four shared bathroom facilities, as well as steep staircases that are not safe for a majority of the tenants who are seniors, and require more supportive housing.

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“It was never meant to be a permanent single-room occupancy establishment under our operation,” Bouton-Stehle said. “We intended to keep moving them forward.”

Pacifica plans on closing it in August 2020, and is presently working on triaging patrons to find suitable housing for as many people as it can.

Victoria Coun. Sarah Potts was especially upset to hear of the closure.

“In the midst of a housing crisis we simply can not afford to lose these deeply affordable 62 homes,” Potts said. “Pacifica has been a partner in housing some of the most vulnerable in our community and I credit them for this work. I’d like to work toward solution. Up to this point the city has had no request for additional support or to collaboratively work towards solution.”

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The matter is expected at Victoria council for discussion in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, poverty activists are growing more and more worried.

“There are more and more people trying to access subsidized units,” King said. “It’s alarm bells being raised, so that’s why it’s hard to stomach the loss of the Fairfield Hotel because we could really use those units.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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