Doors have been slammed in recent weeks on plans to turn the Seabreeze Inne into housing for Lady Minto Hospital staff as soon as possible.
Roberta Martell, executive director of the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation (LMHF), says she has a deconstruction permit issued by the Capital Regional Regional (CRD) and had hoped to start work on removing furniture and fixtures from the motel after June 30, when the foundation’s lease with BC Housing ends. She expects temporary use permit and development variance permit applications to be considered by the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee on July 12.
“We’re ready to go,” Martell said. “We’re ready to empty the place out, rip out the carpet, curtains, beds, furniture, tubs, sinks — everything has to go. It has to go down to the basically bare bones so that we can then build it back up.”
Western Medical, which is building the new hospital emergency department, has received the renovation contract.
Martell is both mystified and mortified that BC Housing has been unable to create the accommodation for Seabreeze residents as announced by the agency and the CRD, which owns land at the planned site — 161 Drake Road — on Jan. 20.
“We will move this development forward as fast as possible using statutory immunity to go straight to the construction phase. Our goal is to have this development ready by summer 2022,” states a website about the project that envisions 28 self-contained living spaces made from modular units, as well as a communal kitchen and on-site support staff.
But BC Housing has confirmed the Drake Road project has now been delayed until 2023.
“We are now working closely with the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation in close partnership to minimize impacts on residents of this unfortunate conflict,” the ministry stated in an email to the Driftwood last week. “We recognize the shared community priorities here, which are both preventing homelessness, and offering affordable housing needed to deliver community-based healthcare on the island.
“We will update the community as our important work with the foundation moves forward, and we are grateful for the foundation’s willingness to engage with us in addressing this challenge.”
Tenants supported by BC Housing received a letter dated June 22 advising them that the current lease was due to end on June 30, although they had earlier heard that LMHF intended to follow-through with the initial lease-end date.
“We know this will be hard news for many of you,” wrote BC Housing rep Heidi Hartman in the letter. “No one wanted this to happen. We are here to support you however we can.”
Martell is critical of BC Housing’s lack of effectiveness on various fronts.
“The [Seabreeze residents] are the most victimized people in our society, you re-victimize them, and then you give them eight days to get out of the only housing they have. We didn’t cause it, but I feel like we have to help solve it because we simply can’t leave it to the people who created this problem.”
But Rob Grant, executive director of Salt Spring Island Community Services (SSICS), which provides support services to some of the Seabreeze residents who are at risk of homelessness, said Sunday that tenants have been advised to not vacate on June 30 and to force a ruling from the Residential Tenancy Branch. Social media posts have encouraged people to support the Seabreeze residents to remain in place.
The LMHF purchased the motel for $4 million earlier this year with the aim of creating 14 to 20 apartments out of the existing smaller suites. The hospital now has 36 staff vacancies, Martell said, and the new emergency department will require seven more employees after it opens next year.
Many of the Seabreeze rooms were used since the pandemic to provide housing to individuals who could not be accommodated at the emergency shelter funded by BC Housing and operated by SSICS when its capacity was reduced due to COVID-19. Other people with insecure housing situations rented rooms there.
The foundation had hoped to have vacant possession of the premises at the date of purchase, but agreed to sign a “short term room lease agreement” with the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation (aka BC Housing) for the period of March 14 to June 30. The agreement included an extension to Aug. 31 if both parties agreed.
At a March 31 meeting with North Salt Spring Waterworks District trustees, BC Housing reps John McEown and Kirsten Baillie said modular units were in storage in Langley and they anticipated people could move in by September. But Martell said a variety of issues both with those units and the site itself have caused the delay. Now that BC Housing knows the LMHF was serious about the June 30 lease end-date, Martell said the agency has been working to acquire other trailers and find an alternate location to put them as a temporary solution, but nothing has actually happened yet.
Martell said it has been frustrating to be portrayed as “the bad guy” when BC Housing had not only four or six months’ notice of the foundation’s need for vacant possession but actually 14 months since the Seabreeze Inne owner listed the property for sale in May of 2021. BC Housing stated publicly that it did not want to buy the property, which LMHF ended up purchasing for $4 million.
Grant has sent a letter to BC Housing advising that his agency “is not willing or available at this time to participate in a plan to relocate Seabreeze tenants to a temporary alternate location as a means of stabilizing their housing.
“SSICS is concerned that a relocation strategy would be a significant, stressful and unnecessary step that could in fact undermine their current stable housing and rights to maintain it. There has been no confirmation to our knowledge that their current housing is actually at risk. Requirements for SSICS involvement would include confirmation that all parties are abiding by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), that the rights of tenants have been considered, and that there is a legal order of possession that puts the Seabreeze tenants housing at imminent risk.”
Grant maintains that LMHF is the proper landlord and must follow RTA regulations regarding renovictions. That would give tenants four months’ notice after a building permit has been obtained. That process will follow receipt of the temporary use permit and development variance permit from the Islands Trust.
“I am aware that this does not ideally suit LMHF, but like any developer purchasing a tenanted property, if they are patient and follow the law they can achieve their objective,” Grant states in his June 27 letter to BC Housing staff.
He also noted that one Seabreeze resident has lived there since 2019 and has had no involvement with BC Housing or SSICS. Three individuals have secured units at the new phase of the Croftonbrook affordable housing complex operated by Islanders Working Against Violence and are scheduled to move there on July 1. That leaves 16 residents at Seabreeze.
Martell said the foundation is getting legal advice and continuing to seek solutions, while noting that the LMHF-BC Housing agreement has a clause stating that Residential Tenancy Act provisions do not apply in this case.
She added that she was alarmed to hear that SSICS was receiving rent from the tenants. Grant confirmed that SSICS has been collecting monthly rent from some tenants since the motel changed hands and was leased to BC Housing.
“We’ve been kind of waiting on an agreement or some indication of where to send the money. I mean, we haven’t got any agreement between Lady Minto or BC Housing about that end of it . . . For some people they come in to give us their rent because they don’t know where to give it anymore.”
The Copper Kettle Community Partnership has also been involved in trying to find solutions. They have offered to facilitate the building of Conestoga huts if the approximately $5,000 per unit is provided and a location to put them secured.
“It’s evolving,” said Cherie Geauvreau of Copper Kettle of the whole situation, “and nobody knows what they’re doing.”