05/30/2012 06:03 EDT | Updated 07/30/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. Seniors Devastated As Homes Face Bulldozer


Several Abbotsford, B.C., seniors whose homes will be bulldozed are calling for more compensation from the landowner, who is closing the manufactured home park where they live.

“This is a horrible, horrible situation to put people in,” said resident Barb Lewis. “None of us knew that when we bought in here — we had absolutely no idea.”

Karen Matty, a prominent developer in Abbotsford whose family owns the park with 100 homes on it, is offering tenants of Garden Village approximately $11,000 to vacate, so the 5.3 hectares can be redeveloped.

The seniors own their manufactured homes and rent the “pads” they sit on, for approximately $400 per month. Most of the homes are too old to be moved.

“Some residents have bought into this park within the past two years at a cost of $70,000 to $80,000 and had asked if the park is safe and will remain as a mobile home park, and they were told yes, this park will remain,” said 60-year-old resident Ron Leitch.

“What about all the money we’ve invested? What’s to happen to that? What’s to happen to us?” said Lewis, 61. “I would like to see [Matty] provide us with an adequate place to live.”

Homes turned to rubble

Almost half the residents from the retirement community have taken the compensation deal and some of the homes have already been levelled.

“Large machinery sits on these empty lots waiting for their next crushing of a senior’s home,” said Leitch.

“I see all the people’s dreams crushed. Being hauled out in a dump truck,” said Lewis. “So many of us put everything we had into these homes. Many of us have health problems. We can’t start over.”

Lewis, who has multiple sclerosis, said she invested $71,000 to buy and renovate the home where she now cares for her 92-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Approximately $40,000 of that was borrowed money — cash advances on credit cards — to fix up the place after they bought it. Another $16,900 was a renovation loan from the federal government.

“When we bought in here, mother had said ‘I want to die here.’ And now she’s not going to have that option. Her heart went into this place — as did mine,” said Lewis, choking back tears.

She and other residents said they have low fixed incomes and no other assets, so they fear they won’t find a comparable place they can afford. Most have pets and some can’t climb stairs.

Lewis and her mother have two dogs, which they won’t part with.

“[Mother] said if we have to pitch a tent in somebody’s backyard we are not getting rid of our dogs. And she’s a very stubborn woman,” said Lewis.

Limited time offer

The manager of the park says residents have only a few months to take the $11,000 offer, or risk getting less when it closes.

“I think we’ve been pretty fair,” said manager Paul Hague, who is also Matty’s son-in-law. “From a business standpoint — you get to a point with a place like this where it’s over.”

Provincial law stipulates owners must give residents one year’s notice of eviction, plus a minimum of one year of paid rent — which in this case would be approximately $5,500.

The current offer is double that — equal to two years of pad rent — which is also what the City of Abbotsford requires landowners to pay residents in order to get redevelopment approval. The owner has not yet applied for redevelopment.

“I think this is a better avenue to say, ‘Look people, it’s coming to an end — what do you want to do? Here’s an opportunity financially’ and that’s what we are doing,” said Hague.

He said the infrastructure is failing and the owner would rather sell or redevelop than spend the money on repairs or upgrades.

“It’s just time. If the water main blows or the electrical shuts down again, we’re just not putting the money back into it,” said Hague, who also said he had no idea what it would cost to fix the problems.

Calls for more compensation

The developer stands to make several million dollars from the sale or redevelopment of the property, which is in a busy commercial area. The residents said they understand the park must close, but they want more compensation.

“We know she has the right to develop this property and make multimillions of dollars — and yet she won't give the seniors of this park enough seed money to help them start over,” said Leitch.

The provincial association representing manufactured home owners says 1,850 B.C. seniors have lost their homes in the last few years through park closures.

It said some of them ended up in nursing homes because they lost their support system.

“No one should be forced to leave their home without being fairly compensated for it,” said Joyce Klein of the Active Manufactured Home Owners Association.

Klein said this is a problem across Canada. She wants the B.C. law beefed up, to require landowners to give residents fair market value or assessed value for their homes when they can’t be moved. She said some municipalities already require fair compensation, beyond the provincial minimum, while others have few rules.

“It’s time B.C. showed the other provinces how people can be protected,” said Klein.

No changes from province

The minister responsible says the government has no plans to increase the compensation required provincewide.

“The act itself has functioned, for the most part, pretty well,” said Housing Minister Rich Coleman. He suggested municipalities work with owners to convert parks into complexes where residents can buy their own lots.

“Some municipalities have taken up some of my suggestions over the years as to how they could bare-land strata and allow people to buy their lots and allow the owner of the property to get out of the ownership of the property,” said Coleman.

That would not likely work in the Garden Village case, because the manager indicated the owner wants redevelopment.

Lewis and Leitch said they accept the park will close — they simply want more help from the landowner, so they don’t have to move in with family or into care facilities.

“It’s a very cold harsh reality. And it’s been a horrible horrible wake-up call for all of us,” said Lewis.