An affordable housing advocate is worried that losing more than 60 social housing units at the Royal Edward Arms will make Thunder Bay's rental shortage even worse.

When the building's 30-year lease expires in July 2015, the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board will hand it back to the city, with all apartments vacated.

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Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic coordinator Sally Colquhoun worries closing the Royal Edward Arms social housing units will make it harder for people to find an affordable place to live. (Beth Ponka/Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic)

Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic coordinator Sally Colquhoun said she learned of the plan after it was presented at a meeting of the social services board in March.

"I was actually shocked," she said. "The idea that ... it's okay to just take 64 units of rent-geared-to-income housing out of the housing stock in the city of Thunder Bay and that everything will be fine, I find astounding."

Colquhoun said her clients are already having a difficult time finding affordable housing.

"The vacancy rate is the lowest that it has ever been," she noted.

'Have to find a new place'

Tenant Selena Achneepineskum said she has lived at the Royal Edward Arms for almost a year and found out about two months ago that the building would be closing in two years.

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Tenant Selena Achneepineskum says the Royal Edward Arms has a lot of problems, but she's not happy that she has to find somewhere else to live. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"Not good," she said. "That means I have to find a new place."

Achneepineskum acknowledged the building has a lot of problems.

"The bedbugs and the elevators [breaking down] ... and you have to walk up the stairs," she said. "There's ... pee smell in the stairs."

Colquhoun said people shouldn't have to live in poor conditions, but believes shutting down the building will cause more problems than it solves.

"Given the choice of an apartment that has some issues and nowhere to live, people are going to choose the inadequate housing," she said.

"[It's] better than living at the Shelter House ... better than some of the rooming houses ... where they share a bathroom with a bunch of other people."

New rental units

Bill Bradica, acting chief administrative officer for the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board, said tenants at the Royal Edward Arms can transfer to other social housing buildings.

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Bill Bradica, acting CAO of the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board, says new rental units are in the works. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

He added that the social services board doesn't own the Royal Edward Arms, unlike most of its housing properties, and the building would need costly renovations if its lease were to be renewed.

Instead, Bradica said, the board is negotiating rent supplements to be paid to landlords so their apartments are affordable.

But Colquhoun said she doesn't see how that will meet tenant demand.

"It's less than one per cent vacancy rate," she said. "I don't know exactly how many empty apartments there are in Thunder Bay right now, but I bet there aren't 60 ... And lots of landlords aren't interested [in rent supplement agreements]

."

Bradica countered that new apartments are being constructed, and said a building under renovation by Habib Enterprises on Victoria Avenue will include rent-geared-to-income units.

"There is also other rent supplement agreements that are being signed," he said. "These are on new units that have come into the housing ... stock within the city of Thunder Bay in the last few months."