The latest project in the provincial government’s Housing First initiative could see up to 40 social housing units built at 6025 Uplands Dr., near Nanaimo Fire Rescue Station 3 on Hammond Bay Road.
The Uplands location, along with a 35- to 40-unit project to be built 1621 Dufferin Cres., was announced Tuesday along with requests for expressions of interest from non-profit societies to design, develop and operate the sites.
When Housing First was first introduced in 2008, it was determined Nanaimo required 160 units to house the city’s homeless. The program provides shelter ad access to programs for those in need, but also allows residents to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while staying there, though drugs and alcohol are not allowed on the premises.
As part of the program, the city is required to provide the land for the facilities, while the province partners with the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Canadian Mental Health Association to provide staff and programming.
Other projects in Nanaimo include an 18-unit development on Tenth Street for aboriginal youth and elders, and an 36-unit on Wesley Street scheduled to open next spring.
A 36-unit facility planned for 1406 Bowen Rd. was put on hold earlier this year following a series of contentious public hearings surrounding the project’s proximity to an elementary school, increased traffic and effect on property values.
Council will determine the need for the Bowen Road project following the completion of the Wesley, Dufferin and Uplands facilities.
The Uplands location is near Dover Bay Secondary School and McGirr Elementary School, but John Horn, city planner, said there were not a lot of options in the north end.
“In listening to the neighbourhood around the Bowen and Dufferin sites and their feedback, we went back to B.C. Housing and asked them if they would see fit to revising our agreement to move some of the units up north,” he said. “We don’t own a lot of empty, multi-family sites of appropriate size up there. We need to have these projects adjacent to bus routes and shopping. You can’t go too far off the beaten track or you’re just leaving people stranded.”
Horn said every major neighbourhood in the city has schools.
“The basis of our system is every school is embedded in neighbourhoods so they’re walkable,” he said. “These folks are going to live in neighbourhoods, and that’s where schools are.”
The Uplands and Dufferin sites are appropriately zoned for social housing and do not require public hearings, but Horn said the public will be notified.
“Once a provider has been identified, they will act as the key liaison to neighbours and residents of the area in terms of public consultations because they’re the ones who are going to run the building at the end of the day,” he said. “They’ll be well-placed to respond to how this will work, what’s it going to look like, who’s going to live there. Our role is limited to providing the land.”
But until a provider is chosen, B.C. Housing and the city will begin discussions with residents in the areas.
“Our preference is to do that in smaller settings rather than large public meetings,” said Horn. “We’ll do that initially, but we’d hope our partners, who are more knowledgeable than we are, would take that job over.”
Horn expects a service provider to be identified by December.