Social housing changes raises concerns in Nanaimo

Changes to Nanaimo’s north-end social housing project caught a number of stakeholders by surprise.

Changes to Nanaimo’s north-end social housing project caught a number of stakeholders by surprise and raised concerns about homeless youth.

A B.C. government press release Monday announced adjustments to the project at 6025 Uplands Dr.

Part of the province’s Housing First initiative, the development was reduced to 28-33 units from 35-40 and is no longer housing adults 19-30 years old.

The release said representatives from Pacifica Housing, the project operator, and B.C. Housing met with nearby residents, community groups and businesses in the area, sharing information and receiving feedback on the development.

Karyn French, Pacifica Housing executive director, said community consultation is not complete, but January meetings with staff and management of Nanaimo Seniors Village and the Vancouver Island Regional Library – along with e-mails and messages on social media sites – indicated an unhappiness with the size of the building proposed.

“It wasn’t one specific thing, but a general impression on the footprint,” she said. “People wanted us to be thoughtful and one option was lowering the number of units to below 35.”

The original proposal was to house predominantly adults 45 years and older, with 10 units earmarked for youth.

French said the biggest impact, no matter who the housing is for, is fewer units for homeless individuals.

“I think the larger number of units would have been preferred by everyone, but we’re trying to be sensitive to the fact the community wanted a smaller building on that site,” she said.

Katia Langton, Nanaimo Concerned Citizens spokeswoman, said the group is pleased the government listened and made changes, but it’s too little, too late.

“It’s great that it’s over 45. We were originally going to get the street-entrenched youth with no inclination to change,” she said. “As for the change of units, it’s nothing. It’s still 30 units and that’s going to be a party and draw to drug dealers. At the end of the day, it’s still warehousing people and that’s no good for anyone.”

Mayor John Ruttan said the changes were made with no input from the city, and he’s not sure the results will be promising.

“One group was able to affect the changes and the results will be the people still in need, and youth in particular, will be located elsewhere,” he said. “What’s removed from one area has to be downloaded on another. This doesn’t help Nanaimo overall.”

Columbian Centre, in partnership with Nanaimo Affordable Housing and Haven Society, will operate a 35-40 unit housing project at 1621 Dufferin Cres. for adults 19 years and older, and executive director Tom Grauman doesn’t anticipate the changes at Uplands will alter their plans.

“We figured homelessness doesn’t discriminate between age groups or genders, so we thought our population might be generally reflective of that,” he said. “We find that a mix of people in the building is probably a good thing, because that’s the way real life tends to work.”

Gord Fuller, chairman of the Nanaimo 7-10 Club Society, said the change puts more pressure on the system and magnifies the need for more social housing.

“I look at it based on need, not based on age,” he said. “I would have like to see the age range open-ended at all of these facilities.”

Seumas Gordon, B.C. Housing spokesman, said in an e-mail that the Wesley Street and Dufferin Crescent social housing are open to all ages over 18 who are struggling with homelessness and who might be dealing with mental health and addictions issues.

“We will continue to support Pacifica Housing as they meet with community stakeholders to provide more information about the supportive housing at the Uplands Drive site,” he said.

Kelly Duncanson, a resident in the Dover neighbourhood, said the changes might help the immediate neighbours, but it’s time to move forward and form a community connection between the operators, city and residents.

“We don’t need to rehash the past,” she said. “We need to get together and talk about this, work together.”

Pacifica is planning a community open house for the third week of April.

“It will be an opportunity for people to meet the development consultant, the architect and Pacifica staff and identify the concerns they have,” said French.




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