People working to end homelessness in the capital region are urging immediate action to prevent the closing of a 62-bed rooming house at the former Fairfield Hotel across from Victoria City Hall.
The board of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness passed a motion this week to protect the Fairfield for low-income housing.
“The coalition’s position is that everyone involved should work as hard as possible to ensure that those units remain part of the housing stock,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the coalition.
She said one option might be to change the tenant mix at the Fairfield. “We understand that there are people who are living there who need supports, who are probably not as healthy as they could be if they could move into actual supportive housing,” she said, noting the building operated for a long time as a single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotel before Pacifica took it over. “So maybe the best-case scenario is for it to go back to a building [for] people with very low needs, but who simply can’t afford to rent in the city.”
The Pacifica Housing Advisory Association has said it plans to end its lease at the Fairfield and move all the residents to other homes by next August. The association says it’s unable to support the complex medical and emotional needs of its tenants in the 107-year-old building, where none of the rooms have kitchens and residents are required to navigate stairs and share four bathrooms.
As well, Pacifica says it’s dealing with violence and substance-use issues, significant maintenance and staffing costs and chronic non-payment of rent by some of the tenants, who are charged $420 a month on average.
The charity’s financial statements show it lost nearly $90,000 on the Fairfield last year, despite receiving a city subsidy.
Municipal politicians and anti-poverty advocates have expressed alarm at the potential closing of the Fairfield in the middle of a housing crisis. “I don’t think that SROs are necessarily the best and highest form,” Helps said Friday. “But what [the closing] would mean is that 62 people will be moving from some form of shelter to another form of shelter, instead of moving 62 people off the street.”
Kelly Roth, the coalition’s executive director, said she hopes to organize a meeting of community partners to find ways to keep the Fairfield operating.
“Let’s bring people together to talk about opportunities to look at this and actually solve it, versus [walking] away from it,” she said. “If we’re walking away, we’re done. Then what do we do?”
Roth said she’d like to invite officials from Pacifica and the city, as well as the property owner — Reliance Properties — the Downtown Residents’ Association and Fairfield tenants. “Basically, all interested parties who would want to see this work, as well as any other not-for-profit service providers who have dealt with similar situations,” she said.
Reliance Properties, which purchased the Fairfield in 2017, has said it has no immediate plans for the Fairfield’s rooms, because it was expecting Pacifica to continue operating the rooming house under a lease agreement for another eight years.