An unlicensed recovery house that had been labelled a “flophouse” by neighbours will have to close after council denied an application to legalize the facility.
The house, at 1880 Eagle St., was operated by the Vancouver Recovery Centre Society.
At a meeting earlier this year, neighbours blamed it for reportedly increasing crime in the area and labelled it “run down and sketchy.”
In a letter following the meeting, the home’s operator, Kyle Walker, conceded that the house may be linked to some crime, but said it tried to limit such activity and argued that closing the home would further fuel the overdose epidemic.
However, in arguing that a neighbourhood information meeting shouldn’t have been held, Walker said that he wouldn’t want to live next to such a home.
“We do not see the relevance of a Neighbourhood information meeting for a Recovery Society as ours,” he wrote. “If I was notified … about a recovery society opening near my residence I would disapprove the opening as well.”
In Abbotsford, such homes must have a business licence and housing agreement that can be revoked if the operator isn’t complying with the terms. But the Eagle Street home never got the proper paperwork before opening up. In April of 2017, bylaw investigators found it was operating contrary to the city’s bylaws and ordered it to close, although that directive was put to the side once an application to legalize was submitted. Residents were charged $800 to live at the home.
As the application wound its way through city hall, neighbours reported that their once-quiet street had become plagued by property crime.
Police reported they were called to the house 32 times between January 2017 and the start of 2019, although Walker said many of those visits were to conduct curfew checks. Still, a report by police cataloging their visits to the house showed that, over two years, they had been called to the house for a sexual assault, a “domestic in progress,” threats and unwanted people, in addition to other calls.
In late January, the city held a neighbourhood meeting to hear residents’ thoughts on the application. Dozens came out to express their anger.
“I realize these houses have to go somewhere, but this is so shady,” a next-door neighbour wrote on a comment card. The person added: “They are decent people for the most part trying to get help, but the pig sty that has been occurring for two years really brings down our property value.”
Walker, who operated the house, wrote to the city following the email to dispute some of the assertions.
“We do not feel that the increase in crime in the area is solely due to our Society,” Walker wrote. “We are not saying that we have not been a contributor to crime in the area. If we find residents to be using drugs or involved in criminal activity they are asked to leave our Society, and what they do when they are outside off our Society/house is not our responsibility.”
Walker, though, argued that such homes are in dire need because of the ongoing overdose epidemic.
“By resisting houses like ours, you are allowing this drug crisis to continue.”
City staff – including Abbotsford’s housing and homelessness team – recommended council deny the application.
Staff noted that “adequate support systems need to be in place for the relocation of current residents,” if the home is to be closed. The city says its homelessness co-ordinators and workers with the co-ordinated intake and referral program will be working to help find housing for any residents displaced.
Coun. Ross Siemens said the need for such services is real, but that “the report speaks for itself.”
“Hopefully this is a wakeup call for others that are operating organizations. They need to make sure they are aligned with what is happening in their new neighbourhoods.”
At the information meeting, many neighbours slammed the city for not shutting the house down sooner.
Mayor Henry Braun said the city’s recently adopted new bylaw enforcement strategy should help address such issues more quickly in the future.
“With our new compliance strategy, I think we’ll have a tighter grip on some of the uses,” he said.