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Homes sitting empty as B.C. Housing takes months to approve budgets, renovations: non-profit

Langham Terrace in Victoria, which is operated by the non-profit Pacifica Housing. A couple who lives in the building and needs to move to an accessible suite can't do so right now, in part because of delays in renovation funding from B.C. Housing, Pacifica says. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)
Langham Terrace in Victoria, which is operated by the non-profit Pacifica Housing. A couple who lives in the building and needs to move to an accessible suite can't do so right now, in part because of delays in renovation funding from B.C. Housing, Pacifica says. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC - image credit)

A non-profit housing provider on Vancouver Island says delays in funding from B.C. Housing mean much needed units are sitting empty.

Carolina Ibarra, CEO of Pacifica Housing, told CBC News she's also concerned about the state of older housing stock — because the funding delays mean her organization has deferred some maintenance, and renovations, to save money.

Pacifica owns and operates 19 subsidized apartment and townhouse buildings in Greater Victoria and Nanaimo, where tenants pay 30 per cent of their income as rent. It also provides nearly 200 supportive housing units.

Each year, it gets about half its funding from B.C. Housing, a Crown corporation, Ibarra said.

Peartree Terrace is an older subsidized townhouse complex in Victoria, operated by Pacifica Housing. Photo taken January 22, 2024.
Peartree Terrace is an older subsidized townhouse complex in Victoria, operated by Pacifica Housing. Photo taken January 22, 2024.

Peartree Terrace is one of Pacifica Housing's older subsidized housing complexes in Victoria. The non-profit's CEO said delays in funding from B.C. Housing make it hard to upgrade olders buildings so they last longer. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

The provincial government and B.C. Housing have been busy building new, non-profit housing of late, including residential buildings that have opened in six different communities on Vancouver Island since November 2023.

For new builds, Ibarra says the funding model is straightforward.

But for older buildings, Pacifica must submit a budget to B.C. Housing and report back each year on any shortfalls caused by unexpected issues — like burst pipes or sewer backups.

The expectation is they will be reimbursed for those shortfalls.

But Ibarra said B.C. Housing is months — and sometimes years — behind in reviewing both budgets and other funding requests.

Carolina Ibarra is CEO of Pacifica Housing, a non-profit housing provider on Vancouver Island.
Carolina Ibarra is CEO of Pacifica Housing, a non-profit housing provider on Vancouver Island.

Carolina Ibarra is CEO of Pacifica Housing, a non-profit housing provider on Vancouver Island. (Scott Brammer/submitted)

Pacifica's request to cover a $700,000 shortfall for 2022 was only just met this month — though only half was repaid and no explanation was given for the missing half, Ibarra said.

The non-profit's 2023-24 budget has not yet been approved, despite it being more than halfway through the fiscal year, the CEO said.

"So, we don't know what we're supposed to be spending," said Ibarra.

"We don't know if we're over or under because there's no budget yet."

Deferred maintenance

Ibarra said the uncertainty means the non-profit has to be extra cautious when it comes to spending and has had to defer important work like roof maintenance.

It also means renovations are being delayed — both work that's done to improve a suite between tenancies, and work that makes units more accessible for existing tenants.

According to Ibarra, 12 of Pacifica's rental units are sitting empty while they await renovation, four of them supportive housing units — which, she says, are "desperately" needed.

'It's just not acceptable' 

Tenant Sandra Hough is desperate for better housing, too.

She and her family have lived in a subsidized Pacifica building for a decade, and for most of that time she's been looking for more accessible housing.

Hough, vice-chair of Victoria's Accessibility Advisory Committee, finally got the option to move into a more accessible unit in their building late last year, but in order for it to be truly accessible she asked to have the carpet removed.

Sandra Hough is vice-chair of the City of Victoria's Accessibility Advisory Committee.
Sandra Hough is vice-chair of the City of Victoria's Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Sandra Hough is vice-chair of the City of Victoria's Accessibility Advisory Committee. She has spent the past decade trying to secure accessible housing for her family in the B.C. capital. (Sandra Hough/submitted )

Carpet can be difficult to move on for people with limited mobility, and it's particularly unsuitable for people who use motorized scooters, like Hough and her husband David, because they can track in dirt from the street.

Hough says the couple were told the renovation could not happen until the next fiscal year, in March.

"We can't move to another place with carpeting," said Hough, calling the carpet in her current unit "disgusting," despite efforts to keep it clean.

"There's mould, there's stench. It's just not acceptable."

Budget, requests under review: B.C. Housing 

B.C. Housing told CBC News in an email that it is working on reforming its systems, and is also in the process of reviewing Pacifica's 2023-24 budget and renovation requests.

It said it has offered an advance in funding to Pacifica, though Ibarra said requested advances have not yet been paid.

Ibarra acknowledges B.C. Housing is doing good work to build new housing  — and said it does come to the table and listen.

But she said the delays are stopping some people from getting the housing they need now.

She said she knows the Crown corporation is under great scrutiny after reports of mismanagement last year, but said any reviews should not stop money from flowing for much needed housing.

She also worries any new units will simply replace older buildings that didn't get required upgrades, meaning there's no net increase in affordable and supportive housing.