Pastor Don Read, with the Kitimat Ministerial Association, spoke up on behalf of Kitimat’s vulnerable when he suggested that property developers in Kitimat for the most part lack a community conscience.
But the owner of property management company Kiticorp says the accusations that included his company are unfounded.
Pastor Read was reacting to an application by Kiticorp to renovate the exterior of their Viewpoint Apartments on Albatross Street.
While the permit is needed just for outside renovations, he feels it will tie in to internal renovations, which is at the core of what some are dubbing “renovictions” — renovations which are leading to evictions.
“My hope is as a community we would remember that the strength of our community lies, really, within our ability to care for the most vulnerable within our midst. And that’s really how you measure a healthy and strong community,” said Read.
Kiticorp wasn’t spared from his plea to look out for those without a voice in the community.
“The latest application by Kiticorp for a development permit on Albatross Street, to me, is an example of continuance of a corporate policy that actually puts profits above individual people,” he said. “When we have developers that have no clear social conscience or long-standing ties to our community, where our community becomes a place where they’re just in here to get exuberant financial gain, when developers like this are not held in check, when their unbridled greed becomes the basis for how decisions are made, and when we allow these corporations to treat long-standing members of community, in essence, with contempt, what we’re really doing is forfeiting our leadership.”
But Kiticorp owner Eli Abergel takes exception to his company being portrayed in a negative light and said that there is absolutely no malice in decisions by the company.
“When we started working in Kitimat we actually increased the rental pool dramatically. We increased the number of units that were available to be rented in Kitimat,” he said.
He refers to the Kuldo Apartments where he said 40 per cent of their units were vacant and uninhabitable.
“The reason for that is because rent, historically, has been so low in Kitimat that landlords have not been able to afford to maintain, never mind renovate, the suites,” he said.
He adds that by summer there will be 47 more units renovated and available, all finished without evictions.
Even as the company renovates many of their units, Abergel said that where they haven’t had to do such work, they haven’t.
“We still have many units which are rented at below market rates,” added Abergel.
As for the social conscience, he says Kiticorp was among the first companies to spend significant money in the community.
“We’ve been developing apartments in Kitimat for almost two years,” he said. “We’re bringing a lot of jobs of all types.”
In short, he said there’s no angle of evil or greed from the decisions of his company.
“It bothers me. I have a social conscience and Kiticorp supports the local arena and we support a lot of different local businesses from advertising to plumbing to electrical to local labour. We’re working hard to do our best with the resources that we have,” he said. “There’s no malice involved and we’re not trying to be greedy, we’re just trying to work within the marketplace in the business that we’re in.”
As Read gave his perspective at the council meeting on February 17, his underlying message was for the town’s political system to recognize people who are displaced by the effects of a ‘boom town.’
“We need to remember our calling is to represent every individual within our community, especially those who have no political voice, those who have no social standing, those who are the vulnerable and the powerless in our community,” he said.
To that point he explained the story of one of his congregation, a woman in her 80s who lives in the Viewpoint Apartments. (Read used her name but when the Sentinel called her she indicated she would rather not have a high profile so we are respecting her wishes not to be named.)
She lives on a survivor pension after the passing of her husband, and Read spends lots of time talking to her about her options if she gets evicted. He’s hopeful but uncertain of where she will live in the future given the availability and price of current rental units.
Abergel says that Kiticorp does try to accommodate people who are evicted from their apartments. He said that in a recent instance when there were evictions at one of their buildings 10 alternate units at other apartment buildings were made available for the people who had to leave, at discounted rates from the going market price.
He said three of those 10 were accepted.
“We’re aware of the challenges that Kitimat is experiencing and we’ve been in contact with BC Housing, council, and the mayor, to try to work through some of the challenges,” said Abergel.
BC Housing has some assistance programs, including those for seniors on low to moderate incomes. The BC Housing website for rental assistance is here.