Lyonel Doherty, Times Chronicle
This is part 2 of a series on the housing crisis in Oliver and Osoyoos. See part 1 here: https://www.timeschronicle.ca/many-struggling-with-housing-crunch-in-oliver-osoyoos/
A low-income senior facing eviction from her Oliver row house is calling for justice so that others don’t have to endure a similar fate.
Norma Jean Schmidt, 69, said a noise dispute with another tenant resulted in her eviction from her small living unit on Columbia Street.
She noted that subsequent arbitration didn’t appear to resolve the conflict. Schmidt claimed the landlord began harassing her to sign a mutual agreement to leave at the end of June. She later discovered that the rent was being raised from $900 a month to $1,600, noting it was advertised online.
Schmidt, who admittedly suffers clinical depression, said she finally gave up and signed the agreement “under duress.”
The woman said she sought help from an arbitrator, whom she noted “sided with the landlord.”
Schmidt said she believes the landlord is using this dispute to get rid of her through intimidation so he can increase the rent.
“It’s motivated by money . . . it’s forcing another low-income senior into moving away.”
But landlord Rick Antunes tells a different story that does not portray Schmidt as the victim.
“This matter went to arbitration and there is an overwhelming amount of evidence against her that she has terrorized and imposed three other tenants for the past 20 months.”
Antunes said after numerous attempts to resolve the situation, Schmidt has not been reasonable and compromising and has agreed to move out of the complex July 1.
“I’ve been a landlord for 28 years and I have many wonderful tenants, some as long as 18-plus years,” Antunes told the Times Chronicle.
“I am not in the hotel business, I’m in the long-term tenancy business. I’m sorry, but there’s other sides to the story.”
Antunes referred specifically to the rent increases, noting the fact that landlords like himself have been subjected to a 73 per cent tax hike during the past year.
“My long-term tenants would tell you that I would never have a rent increase up until about the last several years.”
Antunes commented on the housing crisis, saying the problem is “caused solely by irreversible poor government decisions that will sadly have affected an entire generation of Canadians.”
In the meantime, Schmidt has to find other accommodation.
The former social worker said she will likely live in a camper near Mount Baldy for the rest of the summer, noting she has been on a housing waitlist for the past two years.
Schmidt said the bigger picture is the problem that seniors and young families find themselves in when they can’t find affordable housing.
“I just think what’s happening in this province with seniors and families not having affordable housing in their community is brutal.”
Schmidt said there needs to be more of a cap on rental prices and more scrutiny on unfair “renovictions” that are displacing many people.
Kourosh Rahmanian, owner of The Highland Inn in Osoyoos, does what he can to help low-income seniors by offering them cheaper rates.
He said many find themselves in tough situations when it comes to housing.
“A lot of people are struggling; they need a safe place.”
Rahmanian said many people choose alternate housing such as motels or RVs in the hills.
“A lot of people live behind the high school in the hills, living in campers or tents. The only alternative they have is Crown land.”
The motel owner established a “foundation” (Cypress Housing for Humanity) last year with the goal to build low-income housing in Osoyoos. But for now, he is subsidizing some people’s rent at the Inn.
“There’s not much we can do, but we’re trying to do what we can.”
Rahmanian said he feels for people experiencing this crisis, particularly those suffering from mental health and drug issues.
Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said housing is definitely a complex issue right now. That’s why council recently completed a housing report as part of the Town’s Official Community Plan update.
“We have lots of homes being built right now – some with rental/secondary suites in the basement, and some near market housing in the new Meadowlark area.”
In addition, McKortoff said a project to build rental housing has been approved in town with various sizes of apartments.
“House prices are wild – multiple offers, sight unseen. Certainly difficult for young people to buy a house or condo without family help.”
Laura McLeod, senior communications specialist for BC Housing, acknowledged that affordable housing is a significant issue across the province.
“B.C. sale and rental housing listings are at 30-year lows, which is why BC Housing is working with the Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing to address critical gaps across the housing continuum,” she said.
This ranges from emergency shelters to rental assistance in the private market, to affordable home ownership for people with middle incomes.
To meet the demand, McLeod said the province is making the largest investment in housing in B.C.’s history – $7 billion over 10 years – and working with partners to deliver 114,000 affordable homes.
Since 2017, more than 32,000 affordable new homes have been completed or are underway for people in B.C., including 115 homes in the South Okanagan.
These projects include:
• South Skaha Place: 26 units of affordable rental housing in Okanagan Falls for seniors
• Fourty-six units of affordable rental housing (on Airport Street in Oliver) for families and individuals with low to moderate incomes. This project is expected to open this summer.
• Lot 2 at 45th Street on the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve. This features 43 units of affordable rental housing for Indigenous families, individuals, and independent seniors with low to moderate incomes. Planning is currently underway.
McLeod said BC Housing offers subsidized units set at the provincial shelter rate of $375 per month for renters with low incomes. Other units are rent-geared-to-income where rent is no more than 30 per cent of household income.
BC Housing also provides affordable housing for middle-income families where rents are set equal to or lower than average rates in the private market.