Colleen Frank is exhausted. Discouraged. Angry. Most of all, she’s sad.
The 72-year-old from Chilliwack is facing eviction. At month’s end she has to be out of her small apartment unit in the Westwind complex on Watson Road, and she’s not sure where she’ll go.
“There is enough land in this country for everybody to be able to have a decent home,” she said. “But that’s not the case.”
Frank can’t afford anything she’s seen and she’s terrified she’ll eventually end up on the streets.
She was told in March that she has to leave the building that she’s lived in since July of 1999. She was informed by the building’s owner that a family member “was having issues” and would need to move into her unit.
Frank strongly suspects she’s being ‘renovicted.’ That’s the thing where a building owner gets rid of existing renters, fixes up units and rents them out at a higher rate.
But it’s only a suspicion, one she can’t prove.
Frank was supposed to be out at the end of May, but she filed a tenancy dispute. The hearing is July 28 and if the judge rules against her, she’ll have to be gone July 29.
It is a familiar tale these days. With real estate skyrocketing, people can’t buy. With rent skyrocketing, people can’t rent.
If you can’t buy and you can’t rent, what’s left?
For a senior like her, the financial considerations are huge. The Westwind strata was paying her to be the unofficial building manager, a job that covered her rent and no more.
“I have basically been referred to as the cleaning lady, caretaker, dorm mom, prison warden and FFM (free fake manager),” she wrote in a letter to the Residential Tenancy Branch. “I have handled all emergencies, assisted with fire inspections, evacuations, maintenance calls and police matters for 20 years.”
With that income soon to be gone, she’ll be left with Old Age Security and a small pension, adding up to a paltry $1,000 a month.
She can’t get the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIC), up to $995.99, that many low-income seniors receive.
Frank started to dip into her retirement savings in 2018, “just to survive,” and the money she took out is classified as a ‘hardship payment.’ It’s added to her income in 2022 even though she earned it decades ago, making her ineligible for GIC, and she’s taxed on it the following spring.
She is well below the 2022 basic standard of living Canada, set around $18,000.
“You cannot rent, eat, have phone and cable, transportation and prescriptions on $1,000 a month,” she said. “It’s not possible.”
Frank’s been collecting letters of support from fellow tenants in recent weeks.
“Residents will suffer because there’s no way that we will find someone who will put the level of care into this place like Colleen does,” wrote Kate McGladdery.
A little girl in the building added this thought.
“I really like Colleen and she has to stay here. Don’t be mean!”
Frank has talked to politicians and resource workers, anyone she can think of who might be able to help. All of them mean well, but she finds herself in a never-ending circle of referrals. Person A refers her to person B who refers her to person C who refers her to person A.
“I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and talked to everyone there is to talk to, and I just get referred back to people I’ve already talked to,” Frank said. “Nobody answers the phone. Everybody’s on holidays. They say they’ll get back to you and they don’t.
“It’s exhausting, and I’m tired.”
The Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program would be an option if it didn’t require a signed rental agreement as a condition to qualify. Frank can’t find a place she can afford, so she can’t sign a rental agreement and she can’t quality.
One resource worker suggested her only hope was to get someone to start a GoFundMe on her behalf, so she would at least have money to help her land on her feet.
And that’s what it’s come to, a senior forced to resort to online begging to survive.
“I’m not the type of person who asks for help,” she said. “I’m usually the one giving the help. I’m not one to beg and I’ve never been one to sit on my duff, so this is hard. It’s very hard. I try to be positive, but it’s not easy and I don’t think I’ve had a good sleep since the fall of 2021.
“But I’ve always said that you’ve got to find at least one thing a day to smile and laugh at. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Franks’ GoFundMe is at gofundme.com/f/losing-my-home-seniors-rental-crisis.