Information boards set up at an affordable housing public engagement event earlier this year. NEWS BULLETIN file photo

City of Nanaimo aligning affordable housing and homelessness strategies

Community vitality committee endorses plans, which go to city council later this month

New city plans to address homelessness and housing affordability plan will be voted on by Nanaimo councillors this month.

Members of the City of Nanaimo’s community vitality committee voted unanimously Wednesday in favour of endorsing and recommending that the Nanaimo affordable housing strategy and a 2018-2023 action plan to end homelessness go before council.

The action plan to end homelessness was created by the Nanaimo Homelessness Coalition and the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, along with city staffers, and identifies 10 strategies that, if implemented, could achieve the plan’s ambitious five-year goal.

Those strategies include better engaging with “people at the edge” of the shelter system, creating a drop-in facility, re-mapping social networks to “broaden” clients’ social worlds, managing market pressures and income insecurity, adding supportive housing and increasing services for indigenous people.

The 38-page plan, which was accompanied by a report describing and detailing the overall situation in Nanaimo, noted that while the city is doing a good job of creating new shelter beds for homeless individuals, the city “lacks an adequate process for intervening in the early stages of street involvement” before individuals become habitually homeless. It also states that Nanaimo housing and rental market tightened significantly between 2014 and 2016 and while “wages from employment are rising” in the city, they continue to “lag” behind the rest of the province, indicating a growing gap between income and housing.

RELATED: City urged to support action plan on homelessness crisis

The affordable housing strategy contains five main policy objectives: adding rental housing, supporting infill and intensification in existing neighbourhoods, diversifying housing forms in all neighbourhoods, supporting low-income and special-needs housing and strengthening partnerships and connections.

The strategy, which has been under development for months by city staff, contains recommendations such as the creation of a tenant relocation policy and updating other policies around community amenity contributions, density bonusing, coach houses and short-term rentals.

It also recommends the city consider supporting policies that would allow renters to have pets within their unit, but notes that the provincial Residential Tenancy Act lets landlords make that determination.

Another recommendation calls for the development of a “rent bank” program that would allow individuals to access a one-time small loan in the event that they are facing “financial hardship” and are struggling to pay rent.

RELATED: Nanaimo’s affordable housing strategy now up for discussion

During Wednesday’s meeting, John Horn, the city’s social planner, told the committee that the plans provide policy direction and a framework which will help city staff communicate the needs of the city to the federal and provincial agencies when it comes to receive funding. He said city staff is serious about these documents and hope the goals and objectives set out in them can be achieved soon.

“We hope to be able to manifest many of these strategic goals in the next couple of years,” he said.

Asked about the role of community engagement in the homelessness action plan, Horn suggested that while it’s important, it wasn’t a primary objective of the plan, which he said is about housing people experiencing homelessness.

“We didn’t see it as really core to getting things done in the community,” he said. “But it certainly is an impediment to not do it.”

Both documents will be voted on by city councillors during a meeting Sept. 17.

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