Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review Marlene Anderson says she can no longer afford to live in Revelstoke

Seeking shelter: Revelstoke mother can’t afford to stay and can’t afford to leave

Forced into early retirement, the housing options are limited

Marlene Anderson has lived in Revelstoke for three years but says she can’t afford to stay and can’t afford to leave.

She has heard this happening, but never thought it would happen to her.

She’s stuck.

“I still shake my head. How did I get here?” says Anderson, 65.

She moved to Revelstoke from PEI to be near her daughter and grandchildren.

“I had no one in PEI, so I moved here,” says Anderson.

Since Anderson arrived she’s moved from place to place. In three years, she’s moved five times.

At her first place, she unpacked her car and stepped inside.

“And the carpet was sopping wet. They had just cleaned it. It was the middle of the month and they knew I was coming,” says Anderson.

“It was literally sopping wet. I couldn’t put anything down.”

As the carpet started to dry, a notable stench emerged.

“It was disgusting. Everything stunk. I lasted there eight days.”

Living in Revelstoke didn’t get easier.

READ MORE: Seeking Shelter: Landlord takes over living area in rental whenever visiting town

In one of the homes that followed, Anderson says she was billed $2,400 in utility bills for a five-month stay.

“I told them something was wrong with the billing. But they wouldn’t listen. So I had to pay.”

Trouble brews

After Anderson arrived in Revelstoke, she found employment quickly at a law firm. She says she loved her job, but this last year her health deteriorated.

“I was going totally numb. I would sit at work and try to get some blood flow into my fingers. It was like bone hitting on keys,” says Anderson.

No longer able to do her job, Anderson was forced to retire.

Although she’s 65, Anderson says she has no savings. Being a single mom isn’t cheap.

“I really loved working at the law firm. But, when you can’t, you can’t.”

Due to poor health, Anderson cannot find alternative work.

“I’m having trouble with my hands and feet. So what jobs can I do? I can’t wait tables.”

“Hi, can you carry this for me for me or can you write this down for me?” Jokes Anderson.

Anderson says she must survive on a pension, which is extremely difficult. The maximum amount for a retirement pension from the Canadian government is $1,134.17.

“How do you live on a $1,000 a month? Especially in Revelstoke. You can’t. I have car payments. I wasn’t expecting to retire.”

“My daughter said, sell your car. And I can’t. How would you like to sit there and always depend on someone else to take you somewhere,” says Anderson.

According to the website Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user contributed data, the average rent in Revelstoke for one bedroom is $800 per month.

While Revelstoke is beautiful, Anderson says it’s not for her. She misses the ocean. She just wanted to live near family.

The difficulties of growing old in Revelstoke

“Lots of older people come here, because their kids are here,” says Pat Weatherby, operation manager at Begbie Manor. Begbie Manor is one of the facilities in Revelstoke that provides affordable housing.

According to B.C. government, affordable housing costs no more than 30 per cent of household income before taxes.

Revelstoke has 37 affordable housing units, which according to Jill Zacharias, social development coordinator for the City of Revelstoke, house roughly between 50 to 60 people.

READ MORE: City and Revelstoke Community Housing Society seek to address affordable housing crisis

Yet, there is still a massive shortage, especially for seniors.

“The more and more vacation homes there are in Revelstoke, the less seniors have,” says Weatherby.

Begbie Manor is one of the affordable housing options in Revelstoke. Its waiting list is one to two years (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

According to the City of Revelstoke, more than 25 per cent of residential properties are owned by people outside of Revelstoke.

Since the ski hill opened in 2007, the amount of residential properties owned by out-of-towners has increased by roughly five per cent. In the last 12 years, the total amount of residential properties in Revelstoke has increased by roughly 15 per cent from 3,559 to 4,093.

“There’s a big problem in this town. We will never be able to house the poor,” says Weatherby.

The current waiting list for Begbie Manor is one to two years.

One of the main difficulties in Revelstoke for building affordable housing is the high cost of land.

In the last five years, according to Royal LePage in Revelstoke, a quarter acre empty lot in Arrow Heights has increased roughly from $125,000 to $200,000.

“People aren’t letting go of land, because they think its value will go up,” says Weatherby. For example, the land beside Begbie Manor is vacant and the landowner isn’t selling. At least, not yet.

Anderson says it’s far cheaper to live in PEI, where she lived prior, then in Revelstoke. According to B.C. Assessment, the average price for single-family homes in Revelstoke in 2017 was $436,000. In Charlottetown, PEI, it’s $240,441.

READ MORE: Revelstoke home values on the rise

Revel-stuck

No longer working, Anderson realized she no longer could stay in Revelstoke and planned to move to Ontario. She told her current landlady her plans, who lined up a new renter. Anderson got the U-Haul, signed up for mail forwarding and packed.

However, at her going away party she fell and suffered a concussion. Anderson was put on more medication, which prevented her from driving.

And she couldn’t move in with her daughter as they live with their in-laws.

Unable to stay and unable to leave, Anderson became homeless.

Thankfully, Anderson’s former landlady said she could stay in her spare bedroom. Anderson says she pays what she can afford, which is usually just enough to cover utilities. She also helps with chores around the house, at least as much as her health allows.

“There are people here who are willing to be fair and give them a break, but they may be few and far between,” says Anderson.

Although Anderson never thought she’d be in this situation, she acknowledges she has made mistakes.

“I’ve probably moved too many times, that’s expensive. Divorces do a number. The guy doesn’t always lose. Sometimes it goes the other way.”

Regardless, Anderson at least thought when she retired she’d have an art space.

“I thought I’d set up a room with my paints and crafts. And when I moved here I realized I couldn’t retire. It couldn’t happen. I was going to have to work until I dropped dead. And had my hands not given out that might have happened.”

Anderson says she doesn’t know what she’ll do. Perhaps it will be clearer in the spring.

A few weeks ago, the Revelstoke Review called out for people to share their stories on housing. I got flooded with responses. As a result, the Review will write a series of testimonials and stories that aim to shine a light on what it’s like to seek shelter and live in Revelstoke. If you’re a tenant or a landlord and would like to share your story, please contact us at liam.harrap@revelstokereview.com

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