Liz Bourassa enjoys a quiet, albeit chilly night outside the little, red cabin she calls home. Bourassa and her two children have until the end of January to find somewhere else to live on a low income. Mark Brett/Western News

Family fears losing their Naramata dream home

The low-income family has until Jan. 31 to leave their cozy cabin on Naramata Centre land

It’s a small space, especially for three people to live in, but it might more aptly be described as cozy, and the setting couldn’t be better — ensconced in bush and towering evergreens and surrounded by parkspace on a quiet Naramata street.

For Liz Bourassa, it’s the humble dream house she has lived in for the past four years with her 11- and 12-year-old children, but the family’s luck runs out at the end of January. That’s when Bourassa’s lease with the Naramata Centre Society, which owns the property, runs up, and she has been told the centre is not intending to renew the lease.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” she said. “We’ve been here before, but we’ve been from one terrible situation to the next. We’ve moved constantly. We’ve been here now for four years; it’s the longest we’ve been anywhere.”

Related: Motel fire highlights Penticton’s housing crisis

Bourassa works in retail and does cleaning work for others in the community, but she still needs the B.C. Housing supplement to make ends meet. Her experience exemplifies that of the low-income bracket in Penticton and B.C. more broadly, as a housing crisis sweeps the province.

“There’s nothing — nothing out there. Nothing affordable. It’s very expensive,” she said. “We’re able to sustain ourselves here. Very, very, very to the penny, but we’re able to do it here. But there isn’t room for more.”

It has been a constant stream of stress for Liz Bourassa since she was told she and her family would be forced to leave her small house on Naramata Centre land, where her family has lived for four years.
Mark Brett/Western News

Finding housing can be a challenge for anybody in Penticton’s rental market, but for those on tight incomes, like Bourassa, it can mean some difficult decisions, especially for those with children.

According to 2016 data recently released by Statistics Canada, just shy of half of Penticton’s renters pay 30 per cent or more of their household income on shelter, a rise from one in three in 2011.

Related: Data show growing amount of income spent on housing

Related: Penticton vacancy dips below one per cent

What’s more, Penticton’s vacancy rate dipped below the one-per-cent mark this year, according to data from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation last month.

The options, Bourassa said, range from unappealing to fraught with personal safety concerns.

“We’re quite happy to live small, but I don’t want to live in the new Super 8 that’s there, I don’t want to go into a motel room again. It’s just not a healthy situation for kids,” Bourassa said. “I don’t want to live in low-income housing. We’ve been there, and that was a nightmare. That’s probably, by far, the worst place we’ve ever lived.”

Bourassa described issues with low-income housing, including a “big drug bust the week after we moved in,” which she said is an unhealthy environment for her kids, Nicholas, 13, and Nina, 11.

Related: Super 8 getting more than social housing

“It was very devastating for us to live in these places, and we finally found a place where we’re very happy,” she said of moving into the Naramata Centre.

With the snow line on the hills creeping closer to the city, and the city seeing a couple of snowfalls this year already, Bourassa said she didn’t like the other alternative.

But that alternative is not far from her mind — she pointed to the Western News report in September of families forced to camp out in the upper Carmi area after they were unable to find a new place to live in Penticton.

Related: The people of Carmi hill

Bourassa has had some help from the community. In particular, she noted a piano she said she can’t part with, which was found for free and transported to her place. Since receiving the piano, Bourassa said Nicholas has quickly found a talent on the keys.

The family is looking at how they might be able to make it work with an RV, which Bourassa views as the most viable option in which they can continue to feel safe and comfortable.

“Maybe park it somewhere where I can provide security for somebody who’s not here during the fall and winter months and look after the house in exchange for hookups and things, and perhaps a piano,” she said with a small, exasperated chuckle.

“That’s really what it boils down to. We don’t really need much more.”

Related: Moving forward from Highland Motel fire

Bourassa said she tried to bring that option up with the Naramata Centre, but was met with little interest from the group.

“I sent them a letter explaining our situation, how we needed time. I had a plan. We were thinking about an RV, but where would we put it?” she said. “Hook-ups, and even in a park, there’s pad rentals that are a fortune.”

Bourassa said she asked if the family could park an RV on the property “because there’s tons of it” and hook it up to utilities in exchange for odd jobs, work and security.

“They’ve just shut it all down without a conversation,” she said.

Related: PIB man offering cheap campsites during housing crisis

In their four years at the Naramata Centre house, Liz Bourassa said she has seen her children both grow and mature in the quiet community.
Mark Brett/Western News

When she moved into her current space four years ago, Bourassa said the board of directors at the time was very accommodating for her and others, but things changed when a new board was appointed.

The Western News reached out to current Naramata Centre Society chair Doug Woollard for comment, but he only said the society’s view is that “it’s a private matter between us and the tenants, and we don’t have any comment.”

Bourassa provided emails she said she exchanged with directors on the society’s board, spanning from late March to November, in which she pleads with the society to keep her place.

Related: City must ‘atone’ for its part in housing crisis: city planner

In a set of emails with vice-chair Pam Rinehart’s name attached, Bourassa was told in the spring, as her last one-year lease neared its closing on April 30, the rentals had always been intended as a temporary space.

“We are not in the business of housing rental, our main goal is to get the centre back on its feet,” reads a letter to Bourassa dated March 29.

“Housing for staff is crucial in a tight rental market, and we will need this property for staffing or programming in the near future.”

Related: Cost of housing continues to skyrocket in South Okanagan

But an April email from Bourassa indicated the kinds of ways she has to fight to keep a roof over her head from day-to-day, let alone find a new place to live.

“My van is, right now, completely jammed with bottles and cans I have collected to cash in tomorrow, just so I will be able to put a little gas in the car and buy a few groceries until I get paid again,” Bourassa wrote. “This is how we live.”


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dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

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