Tenants displaced by Abbotsford apartment fire face daunting search for new homes
About 60 households were affected by the fire on Delair Road over the weekend
When the fire started in the early morning hours on Sunday, everyone in the building on Delair Road in Abbotsford — nearly 60 rental suites — had to vacate in a hurry.
By the time the flames were extinguished, the building was severely damaged, and the units rendered unlivable.
Residents like Jan McAusland didn't have a chance to collect many possessions.
"When we initially left, I grabbed my purse with very limited ID and stuff, and the clothes on our back, and that's basically all we've got," said McAusland.
Now, with emergency accommodation at a Best Western hotel running out, the former residents are setting out on a challenging search for rental suites in a city with relatively low vacancy.
McAusland and several of her former neighbours have had online fundraising campaigns started on their behalf.
According to McAusland, the fund set up by her niece will be enough to give her some breathing space while she looks for a new, permanent home — she'll spend the next few weeks living in short-term rentals or perhaps staying at the Best Western a while longer.
But McAusland said the search for a new rental suite is daunting, even more so for her former neighbours with young children.
"I don't know how much is out there to rent," she said on Wednesday.
Limited rental options
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CHMC) latest numbers from October 2020, Abbotsford has 4,398 rental units. The building damaged by the fire made up nearly 1.4 per cent of those units.
CMHC reported that vacancy in the city is 0.6 per cent, which is a little less than half of what was lost in the fire.
The Salvation Army, which jumped in to help provide shelter for the displaced residents, keeps a list of rental apartments in Abbotsford for people in need; that list has 36 basement suites on it, three houses or apartments, and eight suites in nearby Mission.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun declined a CBC News interview request to discuss the rental situation faced by the fire evacuees.
A city staff member sent a written statement from the mayor that doesn't address the limited vacancy.
"The fire at Delair Court this weekend was a terrible incident that has impacted many residents, particularly those who may not have had home insurance," Braun said in the statement.
"The city has reached out to BC Housing for residents who are in need of further emergency shelter as individuals seek long-term housing options in the private market."
'Very surreal in a way'
McAusland is one of those residents who lacked insurance. She said she's approaching her situation as if everything in her apartment is lost — that way everything that's recovered is a gift.
She was able to get her car out of the flooded underground parking area, and on Wednesday, a file folder of important documents and her laptop — which still functions despite some dampness — were recovered.
"It feels very surreal in a way, because you keep realizing how much you have lost," said McAusland, expressing gratitude for the Salvation Army and the people who have supported her through the online fundraising campaign.
She said she's not tied to Abbotsford, and with the limited number of rental suites in the city, she'll be searching in the entire lower Fraser Valley.
"Tomorrow I'll start looking for a new place to live."
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