As new permanent supportive housing complexes go up in Nanaimo, council is trying to find options to put future supportive housing projects in other parts of the city.
City council, at a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 21, voted unanimously to ask staff to identify two potential supportive housing locations outside the downtown or south-end neighbourhood.
The motion was brought forward by Coun. Tyler Brown, who said the city has been grateful to partner with the province to receive supportive housing, but is on a “trajectory” to needing more such housing in the future.
He said Nanaimo’s downtown, south end and Old City Quarter have shouldered their share of the city’s social challenges, “in particular supportive housing and some of the ancillary [issues] that do emerge around supportive housing. It is a reality. They have impact.”
Brown said public engagement tends to happen after B.C. Housing has already purchased a property and has started plans and designs.
“I believe if we are to shift from a little bit of reactive [approach] and hopefully get to as proactive as we can possibly be around these challenges, we do need to show up with some land that is more thoughtfully purchased and has the luxury of time to be a little bit more strategic than some of the sites that have emerged,” he said.
He said exploring areas of the city other than downtown and the south end – he specified “south end neighbourhood” in his motion – would be “an act of good faith” and would more fully realize a distributed model of social housing.
In 2018, city staff presented to Nanaimo’s previous city council a list of 19 private properties and 19 public properties that had been examined for their suitability for supportive housing; however, only three of those 38 properties – on Cranberry Avenue, Selby Street and Fourth Street – met staff’s criteria at the time, and none of the three were recommended.
Then in 2020, the city announced a memorandum of understanding with B.C. Housing to build permanent supportive housing on Nicol Street, Terminal Avenue and Prideaux Street and affordable housing on Terminal Avenue, Fifth Street and Cranberry Avenue.
Brown suggested it would be worthwhile to find out updated information on potential supportive housing sites and noted that there is close to $3 million in the city’s housing legacy reserve that could be used for property acquisition.
“It’s a challenging process and the more work we can kind of pre-load in understanding what is possible and what’s out there will, as Coun. Brown says, move us from a reactionary state into a prepared place,” said Coun. Erin Hemmens. “I think that’s going to be crucial as we’re going to be fighting for B.C. Housing dollars going forward.”