When Bernadette Timbao left the Philippines in 2009, it was with dreams of building a better life for her young family.
Eight years later, with just weeks left before her family finally joins her in Canada, she’s worried about where they all will live.
Timbao is one of many tenants in East Clayton who are facing an uncertain future in the midst of a crackdown on illegal suites.
“I have just received approval for my permanent residency and my husband and son will be coming to Canada very soon,” she said.
In the eight years she’s lived in Canada, Timbao has only seen her family three times. The last time was in 2014.
“It’s so hard, so hard,” she said sitting in her basement suite. Timbao said it’s a sacrifice she’s made for a better life.
“I want stability and safety for my family when they arrive in Canada. If I am evicted from my basement suite, I won’t know what to do. I cannot afford to pay more than I am paying now. I need to support my family here and my extended family in the Philippines. When my husband gets here, he can’t find a job right away, it takes time,” she added. “He’s so worried.”
Timbao arrived in Canada under the country’s Temporary Foreign Worker program, specifically the Live-In Caregiver program.
From 2009 to 2014, she worked full-time for the Garner family, caring for their daughter Jaya, who has a rare and complex genetic disorder called macrocephaly capillary malformation.
While Timbao still works part-time for the Garners, she has a full-time housekeeper job as well.
But the Garners rent a basement suite to her for $600 a month.
“I have lived in my current basement suite since 2011 and had planned to stay for many more years,” said Timbao. “I pay very low rent and am very happy where I am.”
Where would she go if evicted?
“I’ve started to look on Craigslist, and it’s expensive,” said Timbao. “It’s up to $1,200 or $1,400.”
It’s an amount she can’t afford.
Plus, Timbao explained she doesn’t have a car and relies on public transit. She’s not sure how she’d get to the Garners to care for Jaya if she had to move to an area where she wasn’t near transit.
Ironic, considering the city’s justification for the crackdown on illegal suites has so far been to solve the area’s parking problem.
“I don’t know where we will go,” said Timbao.
Both opposition and support for city’s move
Timbao’s landlord, Greg Garner, is among the 175 landlords sent notices to remove their illegal suite. Garner rents out his coach home, and Timbao rents his basement suite.
Garner is part of a group of people organizing to get the city to stop. So far, their petition has more than 2,300 signatures.
The group hopes to speak before city council later this month to urge them to reconsider. Garner calls the move “immoral” and said it’s unethical for the city to force eviction in the midst of a housing crisis.
“I feel like the city has to open their eyes and realize they cannot go through with this,” Garner said. “You’re going to (be) displacing so many families and putting hardship on so many people.”
However, there is also support for the city’s crackdown.
Clayton resident Mike Wellar has lived in the neighbourhood for a decade. He has started a petition supporting the city’s bylaw enforcement, which has garnered 65 signatures.
In an email to the Now-Leader, he said he feels his opinions reflect those of the “greater Clayton area residents who are generally being ignored in this matter.
“I know that the survey supporting the move has a small number of signatures but in fairness it was posted to one group on Facebook compared to being widely marketed by the other group,” Wellar wrote.
The issue isn’t as simple as the “parking versus people” narrative, he added. Parking is just the “most obvious symptom” of overcrowding.
Wellar said other impacts on livability include a rise in crime, particularly property crime, which he says has been a problem in the area.
There are “trouble tenants” in the community as landlords strive to make their mortgage payments, he added.
Also, Wellar noted “facilities and infrastructure were developed for a much smaller population, meaning there is not enough green space, water services, parking, etc., for the area. School overcrowding is a related issue that has been widely reported but connections haven’t been drawn to overcrowding.”
This is due, at least in part, to having hundreds of people living in a neighbourhood that wasn’t built to accommodate them, he said.
“This leads to the petty crime listed above, as well as basement suites selling drugs and having other issues with police. It has got to the point that people have just stopped reporting these issues because nothing is being done about it. Clayton was sold as a family community but as a result of the overcrowding it is becoming less and less a place to raise a family.”
According to Wellar, “the majority of people in Clayton have had their dream community slowly pulled away from them by the lack of bylaw enforcement and are happy that the city is taking steps to make things right so that we can live in the community that brought us to Clayton in the first place.”
Wellar said he’s been in touch with city hall, which has confirmed that any move to change the bylaw to legalize the currently illegal Clayton suites would require extensive consultation with the community and said he believes “it is at those meetings that you’ll see people step forward to further support the action.
“While we feel that the city could find ways to lessen the impact to tenants being asked to find another residence – specifically postponing the enforcement of the bylaws to 2018 (possibly the summer of 2018 for those families with children to not disrupt the school year) we are strongly standing behind the city’s actions and have made these views known to the mayor and councillors and will oppose any changes to city bylaws to allow two suites in the Clayton area.”
Garner, for his part, says his group’s petition “clearly outlines alternative suggestions to help the City of Surrey solve the parking problem without resorting to the eviction of tenants.”
Furthermore, Garner disagrees with Wellar’s assertion about “trouble tenants” being criminals.
He said there are no statistics to back up the assumption that tenants are to blame for the area’s crime, and said to suggest that is “offensive” to anyone who rents.
“People that rent are not beneath home owners.”
Where do you stand? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the group’s petition at change.org/p/stop-the-displacement-of-300-families-in-clayton, and the one supporting the city’s move at change.org/p/city-of-surrey-support-city-of-surrey-bylaw-enforcement.