Port Alberni city council will go into an in-camera meeting to decide the next steps for addressing a property owner not complying with Remedial Action Orders to remove all recreational vehicles from his Fourth Avenue property.
Randy Brown, who owns the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, has moved about nine RVs onto his property over the winter to house the homeless.
On Nov. 23, 2020, council passed a Remedial Action requirement for the property owner to remove all trailers from the property as they were deemed unsafe and violated city bylaws. On Jan. 11, 2021, in response to the property owner’s request, council extended the timeline to an additional 14 days and that deadline was Jan. 26.
“Staff conducted site visits on Jan. 18 and Feb. 1 and there were many outstanding deficiencies including the fact there were nine recreational units and an older Budget style van used for housing,” said Gaylene Thorogood, manager of community safety with the City of Port Alberni at a Feb. 8 council meeting. “Three of the units are tied into the property's sewer system without inspection or permits and refuse continues to accumulate. The present condition of the building and the use of the property contravenes city bylaw and compromises the safety of both the occupants and emergency personnel who respond to the calls at this location.”
Thorogood said calls for service have almost doubled in the last year for the property and the RCMP are there on an almost daily basis for various reasons.
Mayor Sharie Minions said she recently met with Brown and explained that council is willing to work with him if he wants to come into compliance.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation. We have an immense housing shortage in this community and the biggest aspect of that is housing for our most vulnerable citizens, so I believe that at this point all types of housing are needed,” Minions said. “It’s a really challenging situation…to be looking at trying to shut down housing that is the lowest barrier housing in our community, and with that said I also think that no housing is better than housing that puts people at significant risk. I believe these trailers put people at absolutely significant risk.”
Minions added the city holds unnegotiable safety standards and that Brown’s trailers do not meet these standards.
“I do know that our bylaw office does continue to work with this property owner and continues to ticket when necessary,” Minions said. “I have heard in the community ‘if I have a travel trailer on the road bylaw will come along and tell me to move it and I have to move it, so why are we doing nothing about the Fourth Avenue trailers?’ I think the difference is if bylaw comes and asks me to move my vehicle I move it and if bylaw officers go and ask [Brown] to move the trailers there’s not the same level of compliance.”
In a post to social media, Minions said council would not remove the trailers immediately in the current cold weather state.
“We are working on an emergency shelter option that would be put in place prior to our next steps on trailers. That emergency option is expected to be lower barrier than the current offerings and staffed with proper support workers to enable that,” Minions said in a post. “I also presented Mr. Brown with a path forward in our meeting and committed that the city is willing to work with him if he can bring his property up to safety standard.”
Minions said the city hopes to have information to share publicly on additional shelter options very soon and will not be taking any steps that would displace people, until these options are in place.