Province buys Campbell River motel to house fire victims

The province has purchased a Campbell River motel for $4.08 million to house dozens of people displaced by a fire in April.

More than 85 people lost their homes when the Pacific West complex went up in flames on April 8. Some former residents of the building have been able to find new homes, but many have found it challenging to find an affordable rental in Campbell River, which has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the province.

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In 2019, Campbell River’s vacancy rate was 0.4, compared to 0.6 in Parksville, 1.0 Victoria and 1.8 in Nanaimo, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Since the fire, many of the displaced residents have been living in a Campbell River hotel funded by B.C. Housing.

The purchase of the former Heritage River Inn will provide 41 affordable, long-term, one- and two-bedroom units, with rents set at 30 per cent of the household income.

The province expects all units to be occupied in the next few weeks.

Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams expressed his appreciation for the province’s support to provide long-term affordable housing to displaced residents.

“With B.C. Housing purchasing this property and making affordable rental housing available to these people, some of the urgent need for shelter in Campbell River’s extremely limited rental market will be relieved,” he said in a statement.

Maitland Campbell, 20, has been living in a hotel with his mother since the fire. They were looking for a new place to live but haven’t found anything affordable. Campbell was relieved to hear that the province had purchased the former Heritage River Inn.

“I thought it was awesome to actually have a place,” he said. “There’s not really anywhere to go.”

Not all those who were displaced will move into the recently purchased motel. Cecil Podworny has been living in the hotel funded by B.C. Housing and he has found a place to move into on Monday. His friend normally rents the self-contained suite as a short-term rental, but with travel restricted due to COVID-19, the suite is available for a one-year term.

Podworny, 82, said he appreciates everything the province and hotel staff have done for him since the fire, providing a place to live and regular meals.

“We were all pretty much in a jam,” he said.

He’s excited to move into a place that feels more like a home and to have a kitchen where he can cook for himself again.

He hasn’t had a chance to check out the motel purchased by the province, but he said it’s in a decent area. He worries that it could end up like another motel in the city purchased by the province a few years ago.

“That fairly rapidly turned into a place most people don’t want to live anymore, so I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I hope it’s good, but I’m just not sure,” he said.

A service provider will be chosen in the coming weeks to manage the building.

Claire Trevena, MLA for the north Island, said in a statement the purchase will bring security and stability to those displaced as the province works to build more affordable housing.

The province has invested in two other new housing projects in Campbell River, which total 76 units: 49 for women and children leaving violence and 27 for low- to moderate-income households.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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