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Greater Victoria rental crisis hits Langford family

Man with brain cancer and family struggling to find affordable place
Falco Koehler and his daughter Louise Newie play a game of cards under a tent in the family’s backyard in Langford. (Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff)

Doctors have given Falco Koehler just months to live.

But where the Langford resident and terminal brain cancer patient will die is anyone’s guess.

It may not be at his current place of residence near the Trans-Canada Highway, where he lives with his daughter, Louise Newie, and partner Jacqueline Newie.

This spring the family was informed by their landlord that she intends to sell the house, and if the new owner intends to live in the two-bedroom home, they’ll have to move.

If that’s the case the family isn’t sure where they’ll go and will find themselves entering one of the toughest rental markets in Canada.

Their budget is stretched thin – Koehler’s condition means he is unable to work and Jacqueline has recently taken on a third job to support the family – and they haven’t been able to find a two bedroom place that’s close to the $1,200 a month they currently pay, which includes utilities.

“We barely make it and there’s nothing to rent for us,” Koehler said.

Jacqueline said she has been looking for places every day but to no avail.

The owner of the house, Rachel Olsen, grew up in the home and inherited it – and an outstanding mortgage – when her uncle died last year (despite it being owned by the family for decades, her uncle had more recently purchased it from another family member’s estate).

She says she’s heartbroken to have to sell the home, both because it holds fond memories for her and because of the situation her tenants find themselves in, but that she simply has no choice.

Olsen estimates that she loses roughly $600 a month when factoring in both the mortgage and utlities and her family is stressed financially as well, as her husband has had to take a leave from work.

“The house has been in my family for 43 years, it kills me to have to sell it,” she said. “I feel for them, I honestly do. I’m sick having to make the decision.”

Olsen, who knew Jacqueline prior to her moving in, says that the reason she set the rent at $1,200 is because she knew that’s what the family could afford. The median rent for a two-bedroom unit in Victoria is $1,400 according to PadMapper and the region continues to experience low vacancy rates.

Further complicating matters for the family is Koehler’s health.

The 41 year-old worked in carpentry until April of last year when he was laid off.

“I wasn’t able to do my job but I didn’t know why,” he recalled. “I went to the doctor around the middle of April because I had double vision and headaches and neck pains. I didn’t know what was going on with me. I was guessing I had migraines or diabetes … Who counts on something like this?”

The family also has two dogs, giving them even less options when it comes to rental housing. With such high demand for affordable places in the region, landlords often have their choice of tenants and many opt for ones without dogs or cats.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” Jacqueline said. “I hope that someone will see this and maybe someone will have something for us to rent because I’m completely stressed out.”

For her part, Olsen said the family have been good tenants.

“If [the new owners] are going to keep a tenant, keep her. She pays her rent. She’s a good tenant,” she said.