'We could be homeless'


Chantelle Deacon

It is hard for Alexah Zarr to hold back the tears when she thinks about the future. 

"It's my home," she says with a cracked voice. "It is very scary for a young family ... if we could afford to buy our own home we would."

The wife and mother of three is at her wit's end as far as Vernon's rental market is concerned. Her family is being forced to move, again.

Their landlords have given the family notice that they will have to move out of their Coldstream home in April.

Alexah and her husband, Dakota Martens moved from Revelstoke to Vernon four years ago, since then they have lived in three different homes. Each time they start to settle down in what they thought was a secure long-term rental, the landlords pull the rug out from under them and their place is either sold or renovated, which usually comes with an increase in rent.

"I know there are other people just like us who are just trying to find the right place."

Alexah is right, her story echoes that of countless others in the North Okanagan. 

Vernon's vacancy rate sits at little over 1 per cent, and rental prices are creeping higher and higher. To make matters more difficult for potential renters, is the fact that many homeowners who do rent properties want their accommodations available for the busy summer tourist season — all but eliminating a portion of available housing for families like Alexah's.  

"We have shown up to places and they have had bidding wars. It was pretty much us against someone else who could pay a higher rent. It was crazy." 

Alexah recently posted a message on Facebook stating that a young family with a good income is in need of a place to rent. What she got back were messages of support and stories of others who were in the same desperate situation, but no leads on accommodation. 

Alexah has tried working with the agencies in town who help families find affordable housing but she says the wait list is often quite long and she is in need now. 

"We put in an application and we are told we will be contacted if anything comes up. But there are literally hundreds of people before us."

Alexah's story is the latest to pop up as the North Okanagan tries to figure out a way to deal with this housing crisis.  

Two weeks ago Vernon's homeless camp was decommissioned — or torn down, depending on how you look at it. 

Last week a delegation spoke to Vernon City council about assembling a task force to look at the issue of affordable housing for seniors. 

This week it is a mother of three, pleading with the public to help her find a place for her three children and husband to call home. 

Bottom line Vernon needs more affordable housing for families, not just seniors and homeless. B.C. has one of the highest child poverty rates in Canada."This is a community issue that effects everyone,” says Zarr.

She adds, "we work hard. The truth is, me and my family will be homeless if we can’t find a house with our needs, and it’s super scary ... I know there’s a homeless crisis, but there’s a crisis for families and for children as well."

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