While the residents of the Hiawatha Mobile Home park knew they would have to move out eventually, they didn't think it would be so soon, and now they have nowhere to go.
Unexpected mould and water damage has forced Westcorp Properties, the owner of Hiawatha, to wrap-up leases on more than three-dozen mobile homes they had intended to keep rented for at least another year.
“It is a very unfortunate thing for the people that are living in them, it is low-cost housing and there isn't a lot of that in Kelowna,” said Gail Temple, vice-president of Westcorp Properties.
“But, we have absolutely no choice. We are being told those are units that cannot be rented anymore.”
She says mould was first noticed in a trailer a couple months ago, which forced Westcorp to decommission a number of trailers. It then called in experts to check the rest.
“We had to make sure, health and safety is a big deal,” said Temple. “Over the recent weeks we have discovered another at least two dozen over the next couple of months that will be decommissioned and demolished.”
Temple says they are slowly having people move out of these at-risk units throughout the summer, before the wet weather of fall returns, by not renewing leases.
She says they had only wanted to start decommissioning some units next year, just those in Phase 1 of the development, but the mould changed those plans.
“Because of this, we have to decommission units wherever they are sitting,” said Temple. “We could have potentially left those folks in place for at least another year.”
The tenants themselves are feeling lost with nowhere to go, as Haiwatha has some of just a few low-income rental units in the city.
“We have a 0.5 per cent vacancy rate throughout the Okanagan and 30 families that are going to be coming out of there with nowhere to live,” said Clary from All Are Family Outreach.
“I've been contacted by one family who says they don't even have camping gear and they don't know what to do."
Clary says All Are Family is now scrambling to find alternate accommodation for the 30 families they say are being displaced.
“We have one family of two-working parents and three children and they can afford $1,600 a month and they cannot find something in their range that will allow children. If someone who can afford $1,600 a month can't find a place, how can these people that can only afford $500 a month find somewhere to live?”
They are now putting out a call for camping gear to try to get the displaced families through the summer, living in the elements.
“We have our hands tied and we are putting out a desperate plea for any camping gear that anyone can provide,” said Clary.
“We can help to a point, we certainly are trying to find camping gear and will do our best to set them up so they are at least not sleeping on the street, but this is so hard.”
Clary says All Are Family Outreach has multiple ways to collect donated camping gear and they urge anyone willing to contact them via their Facebook page.
“Tents, tarps, anything, we are hoping to have the shelves stocked before this hits, but I don't think it is going to happen,” said Clary.
“Unfortunately there is such desperation right through the Okanagan.”
While many families will have to leave by the end of the summer, Temple says Westcorp Properties will do their best to extend leases by a month or two until families can find somewhere to live.
“This was unexpected for us as well. We certainly realize that this comes at a really tough time, at a time when the vacancy rate is so low,” said Temple.
“We are trying to be as sensitive, considerate and helpful as we can. It is so unfortunate because it is literally taking out half of the mobile homes in the park.”