B.C. family of 5 living out of van draws attention at NDP campaign stop

CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C. — For the past five months, 69-year-old Betty Nicolaye and her family of five have been on a desperate search for housing that has turned empty every time.

“Houses are selling like hot cakes around here,” she said Thursday after an NDP campaign announcement in Campbell River, B.C.  “One application after another, they keep telling us there are 80 people on the list and we never get any calls.”

In April, Nicolaye’s home of five years was sold and since then, she has applied to dozens of rental units but nothing has worked out.

She and her husband are on a pension, her one son has a disability and two others work as janitors. Together they can barely afford a five-bedroom home, which costs approximately $3,000 a month, but Nicolaye said the properties just aren’t available.

“It’s not good. It’s hard, but it’s harder being the mom because you are trying to be the tough person,” she said.

According to the latest census, the median income in Nicolaye’s home riding of North-Island-Powell River is $32,254, below the national average of $34,204. The average rent, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, is pegged at $833 a month.

Knowing she was facing an uphill battle for housing —  the toughest she’s experienced after 30 years in Campbell River — Nicolaye bought a “beat up motorhome” to provide temporary shelter for her kids, while she and her husband live in a tent. The family pays a dollar each for a shower at a nearby gas station and right now Nicolaye says they are currently living out of their van. 

“It’s been rough,” she said. “Now it’s so cold that you wake up in your bed and the blankets are wet, you don’t feel warm.”

Nicolaye is not alone in her unsuccessful search for housing in British Columbia. A lack of affordable homes and rental properties has been an issue in the province for years.

At an announcement in Campbell River Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh re-committed to building 500,000 affordable homes within 10 years. He also pledged up to $5,000 in annual funding for roughly 500,000 households who are spending at least 30 per cent of their pre-tax income on rent.

“This will make the difference for families that are unable to pay their bills, for families that are making a tough choice between do they pay for their groceries or do they pay rent,” Singh said.

 “These are difficult choices that families are making — far too difficult for far too many families — and we’ll put an end to that.”

Nicolaye was at that announcement and said the party’s pledge would help people like her as long as more properties hit the market. She said she was not brought to the event by the party, but was encouraged to attend by a local Indigenous group.

“I don’t know how anyone can hear that story and not be heartbroken,” Singh told reporters travelling on his campaign bus after meeting her. “I think about her and I think that’s why we need to tackle housing and why we need to build half a million new houses but also why we need to do something immediately because for her, we couldn’t afford to wait.”

A report from the parliamentary budget officer said the current national housing strategy, introduced by the Liberals, would build 150,000 new affordable units, modernize 300,000 existing units and protect 385,000 community housing units.

With files from The Canadian Press

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