British Columbia

Tenants left homeless after Campbell River apartment fire granted hotel housing until end of May

BC Housing will provide housing until the end of May to nearly 90 residents who lost their homes after an apartment building fire in Campbell River, B.C., in early April.

Nearly 90 residents lost their homes after a low-income apartment building fire on April 8

Cassandra Simms and her partner Phillip George have spent the weeks since the fire looking for an apartment from Duncan to Courtenay but nothing has been available that they could afford. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nearly 90 residents who lost their homes after a low-income apartment building fire in Campbell River, B.C., in early April will be given accommodation until the end of May, according to B.C. Housing.

Tenants displaced by the April 8 fire are currently being housed at a hotel and provided daily meals by the provincial agency. Those provisions have now been extended until May 31.

"We recognize that staying in a hotel is a temporary solution and is not a replacement for a permanent home," said B.C. Housing regional director Heidi Hartman in a letter to residents.

"Many people have been displaced and it is clear there is a need for more affordable housing in our community."

Cassandra Simms and her family are currently staying at the Discovery Inn Hotel in downtown Campbell River while they try to find a new apartment.

"Knowing that we have a little longer kind of relieves a little bit of the stress, but most of it is just trying to find somewhere and being able to get there," said the mother of two young boys.

Their rooms and meals are paid for by B.C. Emergency Support Services, a branch of B.C. Housing. 

An April 8 fire at the apartment building on 9th Street in Campbell River left nearly 90 people without homes. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

In situations like this, provincial emergency support normally lasts 72 hours — usually enough time for those affected to find friends or family to stay with or for insurance to kick in. But few of the building's tenants had renter insurance or a place to go after the fire.

Simms says having someplace to stay free of charge will help her and her partner Phillip George save money for a new place.

Still, she says actually finding an apartment is the first challenge and is all the more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've seen a few here and there, some in Nanaimo, some in Courtenay," she said. "But when we reached out we never really heard much back."

Housing scarce in Campbell River

According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the vacancy rate in Campbell River was just 0.4 per cent in 2019 — the lowest on Vancouver Island.

In its letter to residents, B.C. Housing says it is working with two organizations, the John Howard Society and Sasamans Society, to secure long-term housing solutions for the displaced tenants in Campbell River.

"We understand that looking for housing in a crisis is challenging and that extra time is needed when several people have lost their homes."

Representatives from the two organizations will be meeting with residents at the Discovery Inn for the next few weeks.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn