COLUMN: Surrey needs solution for RV park residents

A development proposal in South Surrey brings up many important questions requiring answers, writes Frank Bucholtz.

A development proposal in South Surrey brings up a larger question – how best to preserve affordable housing in an era when skyrocketing house prices and a limited stock of rental housing are making it harder to make monthly mortgage or rent payments.

Lark Projects Ltd., a longtime and respected Surrey developer, is in the process of having the Seacrest Motel and RV Park at 864 160 St. rezoned for a 22-lot detached residential development.

The proposal was first floated by Lark 10 years ago, but was turned down by Surrey council in 2007.

The Seacrest property contains 11 manufactured homes and also has 35 RV sites – many of which are occupied by people on a year-round basis. It also has a 12-unit motel.

The people occupying the RV sites have been given a month to vacate the property. The notice was given on Aug. 31, so they need to be out by the end of September. RV owners are on month-to-month contracts to occupy their spaces at Seacrest. Lark has promised to give RV owners a month’s rent back, if they move out this month.

The situation facing manufactured homeowners is a little more complex. Kirk Fisher, vice-president of Lark, said it hopes to reach an agreement with all 11 manufactured home owners before the rezoning proposal bylaw goes to second reading at council. It has reached an agreement with six so far.

Owners of manufactured homes often cannot find another place where they can move their homes to. There are a limited number of manufactured-home parks in the Lower Mainland, and a number of them have been closed over the past 20 years and the properties put to other uses.

While they have better protection from a sudden eviction than they used to, there are many complications involving manufactured homes. In Surrey’s case, a set procedure for vacating manufactured home parks is outlined in a bylaw, which Lark is complying with.

Surrey Manufactured Home Owners Association’s website lists 21 parks where it has members. Most are located in South Surrey, Fleetwood and Newton. The largest one, Breakaway Bay on 160 Street in South Surrey, has 345 manufactured-home spaces.

For many people, this is the only type of accommodation they can easily afford. The cost of buying a unit is quite low, and owners then pay a monthly rental for the space they occupy and other services. There are significant social benefits to living in such parks, and most people who live in them wouldn’t live anywhere else. There is a strong sense of community.

In the past, people have said such forms of housing are particularly needed in South Surrey, where apartments, townhouses and detached homes are more expensive than in other parts of the city.

The RV owners who must vacate Seacrest may be in even more challenging circumstances.

They have chosen to live in units meant for short-term stays, and it may prove difficult to find another place for the long-term. The fact that there are so many at this one small park indicates the depth of the housing challenges facing many residents.

The Seacrest proposal probably makes sense, given the size of the property and the age of the motel. It is surrounded by detached homes and such a development would fit right into the neighbourhood.

However, Surrey council and planners need to give much more thought to where those who live in manufactured homes and RVs can go when such a park closes. Existing manufactured-home parks, particularly large ones, need to be kept intact so that people enjoying this type of housing can continue to do so.

The alternative would be both chaotic and expensive, and for some, it could mean homelessness.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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