Three local hotels that housed the homeless and vulnerable over the COVID-19 pandemic in Langley are ending their rental agreements, putting people at fear of homelessness again say local homelessness advocates.
According to Kim Snow of Kimz Angels outreach group and Pastor Leith White of the Langley Vineyard church, a number of hotel tenants have received letters in the last few weeks from several hotels, asking them to leave by March 30.
“There’s a lot of fear, panic, where do I go, what do I do?” said White.
He and Snow believe that more than 90 people could be affected in the near future. With few options, they fear most of them could end up homeless, after a couple of years of stable housing.
“I’ve never been on the street, I don’t want to be on the street,” said Violet, 62, who has lived in a Langley motel for most of the last two years. She had been struggling to find housing before her current home became available.
Living on disability assistance, she has about $600 a month for housing. She’s now been told that she has to be out of the hotel room she shares with a roommate by March 30.
She said the government will help her with rent if she can find an apartment, but she doesn’t know what will happen if she can’t find anything in the next few weeks that’s affordable.
“It’s not that I haven’t been looking,” she said. “I’ve been phoning.”
But as of this week, she hadn’t found anything.
“There’s quite a few other people here in the hotel that are in the same boat,” she said.
According to statistics from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, the median rent for housing in Langley was $1,475 in October 2021, and the vacancy rate was 1.3 per cent.
The change for many local formerly homeless people isn’t the result of the ending of a government program, because there was no official program, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
During the pandemic, government agencies like B.C. Housing did buy whole hotels in some areas, including one in Langley’s Milner area, to become permanent social housing sites. Those will remain in place.
However, there were also many people on social assistance who lacked stable housing, and who were found spaces by the ministry’s community integration specialists. This was done on an essentially ad hoc basis, the same way the integration specialists try to find housing during normal times.
During the pandemic, many of those housing spaces were in local hotels. Many hotels and motels found themselves without any clients in the early days of the pandemic, as tourism was one of the industries hardest hit. Homeless people and those at risk of homelessness became long-term tenants.
A ministry spokesperson said if the hotels are now ending their agreements to rent their rooms to people, that’s a decision of the individual hotels.
“There are three hotels in Langley that have been providing accommodation to individuals, independent of government,” the ministry spokesperson said.
“Given the hotels’ decision to no longer provide accommodation effective end of March, the ministry’s community integration specialists have been working with the people facing eviction, the hotels, and with other government and community agencies to find housing solutions before the end of March,” she said.
The housing of many homeless people in hotels over the last two years was one of the few “silver linings” of the pandemic, said White.
He and Snow said they have seen how it has given people stability and safety over two years, which has allowed many of them to make progress on the issues they were struggling with.
“They don’t choose to be on the streets,” Snow said.
She and White are contacting local provincial politicians and social service agencies, trying to ensure housing for the people facing eviction by the end of the month.
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