Tight housing market tough for displaced renters

Foothills: Saddlebrook resident concerned about low vacancy rate

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014 06:00 am

Saddlebrook resident Richard Julsing stands outside his trailer in the temporary community north of High River. He doesn’t have a home to go back to after last year’s flood and is concerned about what will happen to others like himself who can’t find a place to rent in the foothills’ tight housing market.
Saddlebrook resident Richard Julsing stands outside his trailer in the temporary community north of High River. He doesn’t have a home to go back to after last year’s flood and is concerned about what will happen to others like himself who can’t find a place to rent in the foothills’ tight housing market.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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The number of people living at the Saddlebrook temporary community is dropping almost daily as people complete repairs to their flood-damaged homes.

As the provincial government gears up to move residents to a new community in High River and close Saddlebrook, one resident living in the temporary community is questioning what will happen to people who don’t have a home to go back to or can’t find a place to rent in the foothills.

Richard Julsing, who lived in Black Diamond before the flood, moved to Saddlebrook in January and has spent months looking for a place to rent in Okotoks and Calgary without any success.

He said he just wants a place he can call his own.

“I’ve got my short-list in Calgary, I’m on all kinds of waiting lists, I almost had a place on March 1 in Calgary,” said Julsing. “I was pretty close there, so I’m just thinking hopefully in another month or two with the warmer weather people might up and move a bit.”

The situation is a symptom of a low vacancy rate for rental properties in the foothills, which was already at zero in Okotoks before the flood.

The situation was made worse after the flood as demand for rental properties increased.

While most people in Saddlebrook have a home they will eventually be able to go back to, there are others like Julsing who don’t. He said there should be some consideration for Saddlebrook residents in their position.

Jusling was renting a two-bedroom home in Black Diamond at the time of the flood.

“The house was flooded out, I had like 20 seconds to leave,” he said. “I had actually, two firemen in survival suits swimming me over my chain link fence up the street.”

Before moving to Saddlebrook in January, he lived in Calgary in hotels, the University of Calgary dorm and with friends. During that time, he said he tried to find an apartment in the city. However, it became too much for Julsing, who suffers from the lingering effects of a broken back.

“It was just basically mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, financially my lowest point,” he said. “I thought, Okay I’ll put my feet up there and at least I know where I’ll be in a couple of weeks.”

Trisha Anderson, Alberta municipal affairs spokesperson, said the Province has a transitional plan in place for Saddlebrook residents and no one will be left without housing. She said they are working with residents to help them find permanent housing.

“We do know, even though we’re going to be working closely with residents, there are still going to be some Saddlebrook residents, such as low income renters who are going to require longer-term housing after Saddlebrook winds down,” said Anderson.

She said there are currently about 285 people living in Saddlebrook, with some leaving to return to their homes daily. It’s estimated there will be less than 200 people still requiring interim housing after June and the Province will begin winding down operations at Saddlebrook.

The Province is building new interim housing units in High River, at a site called Highwood Junction. Anderson said it will provide 150 spaces for seniors, single people and families for up to two years.

She said the Province is also looking at housing options in High River, to open no later than 2015.

“Right now details on plans for permanent housing options, they’re being explored,” she said. “Once they’re confirmed we’ll make them available.”

Lauren Ingalls, Foothills Foundation executive director, wouldn’t comment on Saddlebrook or the provincial plans for temporary housing.

Ingalls said the rental market was tight in Okotoks before the flood, but wasn’t as bad in High River or the Diamond Valley area. However, since then the availability of rentals and low-cost housing has dropped, she said.

“The rental markets have tightened in High River, Turner Valley and Black Diamond and in the case of High River and Black Diamond some of that [rental] stock has not necessarily come back on stream,” she said.

The Foothills foundation has 43 people on its waiting lists for affordable housing properties in Okotoks. The foundation maintains nine homes for affordable housing where rent is set at 10 per cent of market rate. All are full and there is a wait list with six families.

Ken Hughes, Alberta Municipal Affairs spokesperson, said the Province is aware of the housing problems in the foothills area and is working with municipal housing authorities to explore options to improve Alberta’s housing stock.

“We have a lot of work to do and I have charged my officials with coming up with a plan that is fairly aggressive because we have large housing needs right across this province,” he said.


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