Port Alberni city council will be going to a closed-door meeting to decide what to do about the Wintergreen Apartments.
The apartments (located on Fourth Avenue, across from the bottle depot) have been on the city’s radar since late 2020 due to excessive first responder calls. One of the property owners—Randy Brown—moved several trailers onto the property to house people at the beginning of winter. The trailers are tied into the apartment’s sewer system, and extension cords run from each trailer into the building. All of the alterations have been made without plumbing, electrical or structural permits.
Council agreed in November to impose remedial action requirements on the property. Brown came to council to request an extension and council agreed to give him an additional 14 days to clean things up, including the removal of all trailers.
The deadline for this extension was Jan. 26.
Manager of community safety Gaylene Thorogood said city staff conducted site visits at the end of January and beginning of February and noted there were still “many” outstanding issues.
“Including the fact that there were nine recreational units and an older Budget-style van being used for housing,” Thorogood told city council on Monday, Feb. 8.
Garbage also continues to accumulate on the property, she added. Calls to emergency services at the property have “almost doubled” in the past year.
“The RCMP are there almost daily for various reasons,” Thorogood said. “The present condition of the building and the use of the property contravene city bylaws and compromise the safety of both the occupants and emergency response personnel who respond to the calls at this location.”
Because the issue is a property matter, Thorogood recommended that council discuss next steps in an in-camera meeting, instead of in public.
“It gives us the option to explore legal options, which we would of course do in camera and not in front of the public,” Mayor Sharie Minions explained on Monday.
Minions said during the meeting that she has met with Brown and indicated to him that the city is willing to work with him to bring his property up to standard.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation,” she said. “We have an immense housing shortage in this community. The biggest aspect of that is housing for our most vulnerable citizens. It’s a really challenging situation to be looking at trying to shut down housing that is the lowest barrier housing in our community.”
At the same time, she added, the city has “minimum safety standards that are not negotiables, and these trailers do not meet those standards.”
Minions took to social media after the meeting to clarify that council is not planning to remove the trailers immediately.
“We could not remove these trailers in the current cold weather state,” she said.
She also hinted that the city is currently working on an “emergency shelter option” and that she hopes to have more information to share soon.
“That emergency shelter option is expected to be lower barrier than the current offerings and staffed with proper support workers to enable that,” she posted on Facebook.