In a letter to B.C. Premier David Eby expressing his shock at the state of the Coachman Apartments in Terrace, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross is calling on the province to tap its $5.7 billion budget surplus, buy the building and convert it into affordable housing.
Ross suggested government then contract existing housing societies to manage the building.
“Recently, I joined the mayor of Terrace for an impromptu tour of the Coachman Apartments located at 4204 Sparks St. in Terrace to view the extensive water damage that we were alerted to by residents of the building. Unfortunately, water damage was the least of the issues that the residents were living with,” Ross wrote.
“The smell of mould was apparent as soon as we entered. The hallways and carpet had not been cleaned in some time and there were doors lacking trim so one could see inside from the hallway.”
When Ross asked residents why they had not raised concerns before, the MLA said they replied fear of renovictions kept them quiet. The building has since been mostly evacuated, with tenants being housed in hotels by the province until March 19 or until they can find new places to live.
Residents are primarily low-income, from all walks of life, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, families and senior citizens, Ross wrote.
“Many have been told to look for alternate housing at significantly higher costs than what they were paying at the Coachman Apartments. The lack of affordable housing in Terrace is making the situation worse.
“In order to ensure the remaining residents have adequate housing, I ask that the government use its substantial budget surplus to purchase the Coachman Apartments as soon as possible from the estate of the deceased landlord.”
BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) could not support the return of residents to the building after air quality tests found high concentrations of mould, including species that can cause dangerous infections.
The building is “inappropriate for permanent, long-term housing in its current state,” according to a synopsis provided to The Terrace Standard by the B.C. housing ministry.
Purchasing or making any repairs to the building is complicated by the death of the building’s landlord, Irving Kirsch, and the so-far unsettled situation with his estate.
Housing minister Ravi Kahlon said in January that the province is working with the city, the BC Housing agency and local non-profits to “explore other options and secure housing for displaced residents.”
“We understand and appreciate the undue hardship that residents of the Coachman Apartments are experiencing. This is a challenging situation with legal implications,” he said.
Ross provided copies of the letter he sent to Eby to Kahlon, Indigenous relations and reconciliation minister Murray Rankin, and social development and poverty reduction minister Sheila Malcolmson.
The province told The Terrace Standard that a response to MLA Ellis Ross’ letter will be “sent directly to the MLA and not disclosed through the media.”
A spokesperson did respond that the housing ministry “empathizes with the frustration” felt by many of the displaced tenants, adding that four families out of around 57 evacuated tenants have so far found new homes.
“Everyone has a right to a safe and secure home that is well maintained.
“Tenants have been temporarily housed in various hotels in Terrace while the legal ownership of the building is clarified.”
The ministry said it is working with BC Housing, the City of Terrace, the emergency management and climate readiness ministry and the Ksan Society non-profit social service agency, among others, to support the tenants.
Ross added that while he recognizes there will be technicalities in acquiring the property, the “government must explore all options to help the residents of Coachman Apartments.”
The MLA told The Terrace Standard in an interview that given this year’s budget surplus, and the ongoing homelessness crisis in Terrace, the Coachman should be a priority. Ross stressed that Premier Eby was housing minister in his previous role, having made commitments to address housing supply.
The province pointed to more than 36,000 new homes completed or underway throughout the province, including close to 350 different kinds of accommodation in Terrace between 2018 and 2022.
Included is a 108-bed dorm at Coast Mountain College, 22 apartments for women and children leaving violence, the 52-bed Sonder House facility and around 169 existing or under-construction apartment units.
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