Operators look to real examples of social housing

The operator for one of Nanaimo’s new social housing projects wants the community to concentrate on real-life examples.

The operator for one of Nanaimo’s new social housing projects wants the community to concentrate on real-life examples, not hypothetical issues that might come up.

Operators for the latest B.C. government’s Housing First sites were announced Wednesday with Nanaimo Affordable Housing Society – in partnership with Columbian Centre Society and Haven Society –  running the 35-40 units at 1621 Dufferin Cres., and Pacifica Housing, headquartered in Victoria, operating a similar-sized facility at 6025 Uplands Dr.

The September announcement of the locations created community backlash, with residents near the Uplands location in particular fearing an increase of crime in their neighbourhood.

But Tom Grauman, executive director of Columbian Centre Society, said instead of talking hypothetically about crime that might take place, he wants to look at the real examples in Nanaimo.

Columbian Centre operates five housing residences in Nanaimo, Pacifica Housing four, Nanaimo Affordable Housing four and Haven Society runs several aprtments.

“[Columbian Centre] is not experiencing anything like that and I invite anyone to ring the doorbell of any of our neighbours on Rosstown Road and ask them if they have an issue with increased crime,” he said. “If I get one call a year from a neighbour, that’s a heavy year. Why people think this new location is going to be different is a mystery to me. The history of this type of project in Nanaimo is encouraging.”

The two complexes will house single adults with Uplands targeting 19-30-year olds and 45 and older; Dufferin is accepting tenants 19 years and older.

Applicants must go through the B.C. Housing registry to qualify for housing, take part in an interview and sign a tenancy agreement.

Karyn French, executive director of Pacifica, said they work with other service and housing providers in Nanaimo to determine the best fit.

“It’s a fairly intensive intake process,” she said. “We don’t want to put people in a situation that won’t work for them.”

Both locations are low-barrier with no restrictions on drug or alcohol use in individual units.

“What people do in the privacy of their own homes is up to them. As long as their conduct doesn’t jeopardize the lives of anyone else, they’re free to do it,” said Grauman.  “That’s not to say we condone illegal activity. That is not in our interest and if made aware of it, will stop it.”

Both sites will be staffed with support workers 24 hours a day, though staffing numbers have yet to be determined.

French said Pacifica is aware of the issues.

“Staff are watchful of illegal acts and will call police,” she said. “We will work to quickly make it uncomfortable for anyone hanging around.”

French said the next step is to meet with neighbours.

“Not knowing who the providers are has been difficult and now we want to fill in the blanks, let them make informed decisions,” she said. “They need to understand what this project is and not fear it.”

Construction is expected to begin on both projects in early 2013.