Surrey resident Krista Belegris is one of many renters scrambling to find a new home after a crackdown on illegal suites in Clayton. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Surrey woman running non-profit says suite crackdown ‘cruel, unrealistic’

PART 3 IN A SERIES: Krista Belegris is one of many Clayton residents scrambling to find a new home

Krista Belegris works to run a charity her aging grandfather founded.

She is also working to find a new home.

Belegris, 29, is one of many Clayton renters unsure of their future in light of a city crackdown on the area’s illegal suites.

“It’s cruel,” Belegris said of the initiative. “It’s unrealistic to expect that this amount of people, that they’re going to find a place to live. There’s nothing.”

Belegris has lived in the same Clayton coach home for three years but come Jan. 31, she must find a new place to live.

“And all for parking? And to be less crowded?”

Read part one in this series: Single mom ‘living in fear’ as Surrey cracks down on illegal suites

Read part two in this series: Clayton suite crackdown leaves dad ‘dejected’

In an effort to solve the area’s ongoing parking problem, 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.

Belegris told the Now-Leader she left a full-time job in construction to focus on her family’s charity, Faith in Vision. The faith-based non-profit was started by her grandfather in the 1970s, and much of its focus was in India, she said.

“He’s built churches and homes and orphanages and all that kind of stuff,” Belegris said, noting she’s gone overseas, herself. “So basically what I’m doing now is, I left the construction job, and I was doing that full-time and Faith and Vision.”

She now runs it as a “one-man show.”

Belegris is also creating a new “companionship” program within the charity, to help seniors “at risk of loneliness” and thus, isolation.

“It’s very important because there’s no services out there for seniors at risk of serious health concerns, stemming from loneliness,” she said. “It’s tough when you’re trying to put such positivity back into the world and you’re just getting attacked.”

Belegris said she’s passionate about the non-profit but that it’s difficult to have the added stress of searching for a new home, with an already reduced income.

“It was a huge pay cut…. I’m not getting that other regular pay cheque anymore.”

She kept a part-time job in mental health outreach to help supplement income, but she says it’s tough.

homelessphoto

This is the second time this year Belegris has had to hunt for a new home. She went searching several months ago after her landlords decided to sell the home. Luckily for her, the new owners allowed her to stay and gave her an extension for a time.

But now, like many others, she’s scrambling to find a new home by the Jan. 31 deadline.

“It’s terrifying,” she said. “Everything inside you makes your blood boil because you can’t imagine how difficult it is to find something already.”

Belegris said she currently pays $750 for a coach house and moving would mean an increase to $1,000, or more, for an equivalent space.

To complicate matters, she owns a cat.

“People will shut you down right away. It doesn’t matter if you have a pet reference or anything,” Belegris said. “Honestly, you can’t predict where you’re going to end up. I want to try to stay in this neighbourhood. I know there are cheaper areas but I don’t feel comfortable living there. And even then, it’s not much of a price difference.

“The rents just keep increasing and increasing,” she added. “Sometimes you go on Craigslist and you have a bit of a panic attack and can’t look at it anymore because it’s too devastating.”

When searching for a home after her first eviction notice this year, she said countless units had been rented by the time she inquired. Or she showed up to view a rental home and 30 or more other people were there.

“You don’t wait until you’re evicted. If something comes up, I’ll take it.”

Asked where she’d go if she couldn’t secure new housing, she paused.

“If I was homeless, basically? It’s not unrealistic,” she said. “I don’t know. My sister lives in Chilliwack and that’s too far for me with all my work here. My mom is in a small townhouse.

“I think I could blow up a mattress in her spare room if it came to that.”

East Clayton community was a ‘pilot’

The planning for the East Clayton neighbourhood dates back to 1998, when it was sprawling verdant fields, with alder trees and rustic barns.

While the project was completed under former Mayor Dianne Watts, but the first planning report about the neighbourhood came before the sitting council on Dec. 7, 1998.

The community’s planning was done in conjunction with UBC professor Patrick Condon, who has more than 25 years experience in sustainable urban design, explained Don Luymes, a community planner in Surrey.

He said much worked well in East Clayton, but the city learned some lessons along the way.

“It was seen as kind of a pilot for a new way of planning neighbourhoods in Surrey,” Luymes said.

The idea was to create a pedestrian-oriented area that utilized sustainable neighbourhood principles.

Some things worked out, Luymes said, pointing to a unique drainage system in the area, which allows for water to dump directly into the ground, as opposed to through storm sewer pipes.

Luymes said the goal of creating a pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood has succeeded.

In most of the area, driveways are placed at the back of homes, not in the front crossing sidewalks. The neighbourhood also has several parks and schools, all designed to be within easy walking distance.

Luymes said the core of East Clayton built out rapidly, proving to be popular with firsttime homebuyers and young families. “The majority of the neighbourhood was built very quickly within five or six years.”

In no time, the city heard about parking stresses on the roads.

“The parking issue is real,” Luymes said. “It is particularly an issue in single-family small lot areas of the plan. Part of the reason is that although at the time that the subdivision was built, secondary suites were not officially permitted in Surrey, many people put a suite in their basement as a mortgage helper. The amount of suites wasn’t anticipated as much as we could have.”

Coach houses added additional challenges to the neighbourhood.

“The rule was that you could either have a coach house or a secondary suite, not both. But in reality, what happened in many cases was that the coach house was rented out and the basement was also rented out,” he said, adding that the suite problem has proven difficult to enforce.

Council has since put an unofficial moratorium on coach homes.

Further adding to the problem is that many of the garages were too small to comfortably fit two vehicles. And the third parking spot at the rear of the house turned out to be too narrow to fit larger vehicles like pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans.

Luymes said the city is now looking at how to plan the neighbouring West Clayton, and has increased the minimum lot size to be two-and-a-half feet wider, and deepened the lots, to allow for a bigger garage and a larger parking stall beside the garage.

Luymes added that “transit service in the area has lagged behind, resulting in a higher reliance on vehicles.”

But he noted there have been improvements to transit service in the last few years, on along Fraser Highway and a new bus route that loops through the area.

Ultimately, Luymes said the goal is to get people out of their cars.

Surrey rapid transit line is planned to go through East Clayton along Fraser Highway, although whether that will be SkyTrain or light rail has yet to be decided.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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