B.C. Housing is busy with planning and co-ordinating as two temporary supportive housing projects are being built in Nanaimo before winter starts to set in.
The provincial government announced last month that B.C. Housing will construct 170 units of temporary supportive modular housing in Nanaimo at cost of $1.6 million as part of an effort to house people living at Discontent City.
Construction is currently underway on 80 units of supportive housing at 250 Terminal Ave and as well as at 2020 Labieux Rd., where 90 units are planned.
The Terminal Avenue site, dubbed Newcastle Place, will have secure units, each with a bed, chair and closet, according to B.C. Housing. The site will have shared bathrooms and showers as well a commercial kitchen, dining room, laundry room and lounges.
The Labieux Road project, which will be operated by Pacifica Housing, will have secure units suitable for individuals as well as couples, according to B.C. Housing. There will be shared bathrooms and showers and a common kitchen, dining room and laundry room.
A lawsuit was recently launched in relation to the Terminal Avenue site, alleging that it should be subject to the City of Nanaimo’s rezoning bylaws. Dominic Flanagan, executive director for B.C. Housing, said his organization is aware of the lawsuit. He said he couldn’t comment on whether it would affect the timeline for the Terminal Avenue site.
“It is a bit challenging because it is in a legal process. What I can say is that we are aware of the civil claim and we’ve referred to our legal folks for review but in the meantime, as you will see by the site, the work continues,” he said. “The closer we get to the height of winter, the more challenges we do have.”
B.C. Housing plans to make Newcastle Place a permanent supportive housing site and will need to go through the city’s rezoning process in order to do so, according to Flanagan, who said the Labieux Road site will likely be returned to the city eventually.
“I imagine that will go back to [the city’s] public works department,” he said. “But that will give us a year or two to find other locations for more permanent supportive housing.”
Two petitions opposing the supportive housing projects have also been launched by residents, which Flanagan said he is aware of and understands concerns.
“There is a lot of community concern when we do supportive housing, whether it is Maple Ridge, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Victoria; we hear those concerns. There are some common themes around crime, safety and drug use,” he said.
In order to address concerns in the community, B.C. Housing is hosting eight public engagement sessions in Nanaimo, where residents will get to ask questions and hear more information about the two supportive housing sites. There will also be a live online question-and-answer session on Nov. 22. Flanagan said he couldn’t disclose the locations for the planned public engagement sessions at the moment, but will do so closer to the date. He said multiple engagement sessions are planned to give more people a chance to have their voices heard in smaller settings.
“I think what happens, not all the time, but in some of the larger sessions, people get frustrated because there are so many people and you only have like two to three minutes for a question … so I think breaking it down into nine or 10 sessions across the city allows for a bit more in-depth and richer dialogue to happen,” Flanagan said.
The Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road sites also have what are known as community advisory committees that will meet once a month and will be made up of nearby residents, police, Island Health, B.C. Housing, city staffers and others, according to Flanagan. He also said there will also be on-site security at both locations.
“We will have the security as long as it is needed,” he said. “We will have security at the start and often we see people move in and the site starts to settle down. I think a lot depends on what happens in the first few weeks. I think based on our other housing models and based on the experience of someone like Pacifica and Island Crisis Care Society, we’re confident that these will provide safe, supportive housing.”
He said B.C. Housing’s energy and attention is focused on getting the modular housing up and running and working with the non-profits, Island Health and other partners to make sure supports are in place.
Flanagan said there are 117 people currently living at Discontent City, but couldn’t say how many of them have applied and how many have qualified for housing at either Nanaimo site.
“There are number of people at tent city who are working but can’t find affordable housing or have struggled to find affordable housing,” he said. “They may have other issues as well but I think what this type of housing does is it provides that sense of stability and permanency which really then give the person the opportunity to turn their life around.”
Discontent City is slated to be closed Nov. 30 and the City of Nanaimo decreased the size of the camp last week as one of the steps in dismantling that site.
For more information on B.C. Housing’s public engagement sessions or both supportive housing projects, visit www.letstalkhousingbc.ca/nanaimo
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