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The Housing Crunch
by Judith Lavoie

As printed in the "Times Colonist" - Friday, February 8, 2008

One Mom, Three Kids, No Place to Go: Motel Room Families Grow Desperate

Advocates say more subsidized housing the only answer to increasing problem

The spaghetti-smeared face of 18-month-old Chrissy Myra makes her mother smile, but desperation quickly returns.

"I don't know what I"m going to do. There's nowhere else for us to go. There are no options. I have to have a place that's secure and warm for the kids," said Jennifer Myra, 30, a single mom on income assistance.

Boxes are piled high in the motel room, and every surface is covered with toys, clothes and dishes, but, since October, it has been home for Myra and her three children- Chrissy, four-year-old Samantha and five-year-old Alyssa.

Now, like other families living in Gorge Road motels because they cannot find affordabel housing, the rent is about to shoot up as tourist season starts.

At the Traveller's Inn on Gorge, where 11 families are housed, the monthly rate for a unit with a kitchenette will go from $695 to $935 on March 1 and to $90 a night in July.

For Myra, who receives less than $1,100 a month, the math does not work.

"I just do the best I can, but, at the end of the day, it doesn't add up," she said.

Myra has been on the list for subsidized housing for 2-1/2 years, and, in addition to her regular calls to B.C. Housing, she has enlisted the help of Victoria-Hillside MLA Rob Fleming, whose office has also been making weekly calls.

"They can't even give us an idea of how long we're likely to be waiting," Myra said.

The conditions are impossible for raising a family and, with a vacancy rate hovering around zero and skyrocketing home prices, the federal and provincial governments have to start building affordable housing, Fleming said.

A Wellesley Institute report this week put B.C. at the bottom of the provincial list when it comes to investing in affordable housing.

However, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the information is out of date and B.C. has almost tripled spending on housing in the last 2-1/2 years.

Obviously not enough, Fleming said.

"If Jennifer [Myra] was able to get into stable housing,k she could move on with raising her children and getting back into the workforce and getting her life back together," he said.

"As a region we are failing utterly... We will bevcome a resort-style area where housing is completely out of reach."

Burnside Gorge Community Association, which is helping about 25 families living in motels, estimates there are double thet number who have not come for help.

Each year families are faced with the rate increases, said executive director Dean Fortin.

"What generally happens is they look for friends and family to stay with. Sometimes they live in tents and sometimes in cars. Sometimes- it's tragic- they give up their children temporarily," he said.

Crisis cases necessarily go to the top of the B.C. Housing list, but many of those living in brutal, chronic, grinding poverty cannot get subsidized housing, Fortin said.

"Has it ever been more clear. Let's have less meetings and more action. Let's build some houses," he said.

Harvey Stevenson, spokesman for John Asfar, owner of the Traveller's Inn chain of hotels, said there is always sympathy for the families when summer rates start. In the case of a family whose 14-month-old baby boy died in the motel this week, the rent has been waived for this month.

Some Traveller's Inn properties on the Gorge could be sold and converted into small apartments, but the situation is complicated by the city's moratorium on conversion of Gorge motels into rooming houses, Stevenson said.