Surrey’s Darrin Dighton knows exactly what would happen if he was a casualty of the city’s crackdown on illegal suites.
“I’d be on the street.”
Dighton has lived in a Clayton basement suite for three years. He squeaks by, paying $750 a month.
“If I go to even $800 a month, I’m literally eating peanut butter and jelly,” he told the Now-Leader. “I’m trying to look for something around $750. Right now, I’m in a place that’s roughly 800 square feet, and everything in my price range is 350 to 500 square feet.”
He said equivalent basement suites are now going for $1,100 or more, compared to $750 when he moved in three years ago.
“I couldn’t pay that. There’s no way,” he said.
Dighton shares custody of his six-year-old daughter with her mother in Abbotsford, and has another child who lives in Boston.
He said he pays $2,100 a month in child support and despite having a decent job, he barely makes ends meet.
Finding a roommate is his last option, which he said is less than ideal with his daughter around.
“Kids adapt,” he said. “But as a parent, I just don’t want to bring a roommate into my daughter’s life. That’s not a normal situation for a kid to have to go through.”
While it’s only legal in Surrey to have one secondary suite, many of the houses in Clayton were built with a basement suite as well as a coach home. The city allows homeowners to rent one or the other out, but many rent both.
In August, the city sent letters to 175 homeowners that they must remove their illegal suites by Jan. 31, 2018. And, the city has said it continues to look for more.
“I read about this on the Clayton Facebook site,” Dighton said. “My landlord was on vacation…. When she came home I took her aside and said, ‘Can you go check your mail? I need to know if you’re affected by it.”
She was, leaving him in a panic.
“I felt dejected, worried of where I’d go after looking at the rental market. There’s nowhere for me to get the money for that,” he said about the rental increase he’s facing.
“I don’t make bad money, but it’s definitely rough.”
Dighton is one of many tenants in Clayton facing an uncertain future as the details and timing of the city’s suite crackdown are worked out.
Surrey council has expressed it doesn’t wish to displace people, and is considering extending the Jan. 31st deadline.
But that doesn’t change Dighton’s situation.
“Even if the city extended the deadline, I’d still be in the same issue until affordable housing is available,” he said.
Dighton says the city should look at other options like permit parking, instead of reducing housing availability in a market that’s so overpriced, and in such short supply.
“I’m hoping they’re going to have a change of heart.”
The city says the crackdown on the area’s illegal suites is an attempt to resolve the parking problem there, but some are calling for other solutions.
On Monday night, residents wearing ‘Clayton For Families’ T-shirts sat through two hours of unrelated matters at the council meeting, awaiting Surrey council to discuss the matter.
Landlord Greg Garner said the group is made up of young owners, all the way up to seniors, and actually has about 150 members, although he estimated 60 turned out to the meeting.
While he appreciates hearing council say it doesn’t want to make people homeless, Garner said, “in an effort to fix the parking problem, they’ve created another major problem.”
He calls for permit parking or street queuing or marking parking stalls, instead of evicting residents. But the city insists it has either tried, or considered, everything option.
“The city is saying Clayton residents want these tenants in ‘illegal’ suites evicted. Who are they talking to? We have almost 2,200 people in our petition,” said Garner, noting it also calls for a different solution.
Garner said this issue affects all renters in Surrey, and perhaps even those across B.C.
“If you put another 785 out onto the street, this is going to affect every renter in the Lower Mainland and probably in the province of B.C. Because now, that rental supply, which we know is at a 0.4 vacancy rate (in Surrey), is going to have another 785 people competing for one unit.”
The 785 number Garner references is the Clayton group’s estimate of the total number of Clayton coach homes. The city says there are 708.
“We can assume the large majority of them, if not all, also have basement suites. So now, we’re talking about not 175 but 785 families potentially being misplaced,” he said.
“If you’ve been in there for three or four years, you’re paying 2013 rates. We’re talking some people looking at rent being doubled.”
Garner said it blows his mind that the city would create such hardship for tenants based on less than two complaints per day, referring to the city report that stated it had received 298 parking complaints so far this year as of July 20, 2017.
“That’s not even two complaints per day.
The city now claims that number is higher.
Bylaw manager Jas Rehal told the Now-Leader that the 298 quoted in the city document are general parking complaints about the area, asking the city to solve the problem. He said so far this year the city has actually received more than 1,400 parking complaints tied to a specific incident, such as someone blocking a driveway. “The bylaw department has responded to over 7,000 parking complaints over the past number of years,” he added.
That information was absent from the July report, prior to letters being sent to landlords.
The report did note there had been 1,328 tickets issued in 2017 year to date.
Asked why the total number of parking complaints wouldn’t be included in the report, Rehal said “that report was written by both engineering and bylaws and unfortunately not combined.”
“I can see where the public would be confused,” Rehal added. “Ideally, in the report, we should’ve put the whole history.”
Garner vowed the Clayton for Families group, made up of landlords and tenants, is “not going away.”
“The city is misleading the public,” he said. “Even if that’s four or five parking complaints per day,” he said of the higher complaint figure, “that’s all it takes to displace people?
“And if they’re going to enforce the bylaw, then they have to enforce that across the City of Surrey. That doesn’t just apply to Clayton.”
The group has applied to speak before council Oct. 23rd.
Coming up in Part 3
In Wednesday’s issue, we introduce you to Krista Belegris, a single woman facing eviction who says it’s “cruel and unrealistic” for the city to expect a large amount of people will find new homes.