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Subsidized housing units sit empty for months in wait for reno cash

Pacifica Housing says it’s facing a funding shortfall of more than $2 million from B.C. Housing, making it challenging to provide the desperately needed units

A dozen units of subsidized housing have been sitting empty for months in Victoria while the operator awaits funding approval for renovations.

Pacifica Housing says it’s ­facing a shortfall of more than $2 million from B.C. Housing, making it challenging to provide the desperately needed units.

Carolina Ibarra, Pacifica’s CEO, said there’s been a lot of focus on creating new units to address the affordable-housing shortage, but it’s frustrating that red tape is preventing existing units from being occupied.

“If we’re going to tackle the housing crisis, yes, we need to deliver new units to make up for the growth in population, but the existing units need to be ­maintained.”

Pacifica has 12 ­subsidized units that are ­unoccupied because they’re in need of repairs, Ibarra said.

Eight are family units with two or three bedrooms where rent is limited to 30 per cent of a resident’s income, while the other four are studio apartments in supportive housing.

Pacifica has been waiting months for funding approval in some cases, she said. Many of the empty units had been ­occupied for a long time and have significant wear, often requiring new flooring and ­cabinets, drywall repairs and painting, with costs between $2,000 and $20,000, Ibarra said.

Aggravating the issue is a funding system that Ibarra said doesn’t work.

Pacifica submits a proposed budget to B.C. Housing ahead of the start of its fiscal year in June, but B.C. Housing doesn’t approve a budget and ­reimburse the housing provider until well into the fiscal year, Ibarra said. A review of the 2023-2024 budget has only recently begun, she said.

The model creates uncertainty for Pacifica around what it can afford to do, she said.

“We’re kind of stuck in a ­purgatory where we don’t know how much money is going to be reimbursed, and we don’t know how much money we’re ­supposed to be spending.”

Pacifica receives just under half its funding from B.C. ­Housing. The rest comes mostly from rent payments from ­residents, with small amounts coming from contracts with Island Health, federal funding and donations, Ibarra said.

She said the 2021-2022 fiscal year left Pacifica with a roughly $740,000 shortfall and the ­2022-2023 fiscal year resulted in a $1.6-million shortfall.

Last week, B.C. Housing reviewed the 2021-2022 funding and reimbursed about $240,000, excluding mostly maintenance costs, Ibarra said.

That reinforces Pacifica’s hesitation to move forward with maintenance without an approved budget, as the decision on what to reimburse appears arbitrary, she said.

The only way to recover expenses would be to raise rents in units rented at the low end of market prices, which would exacerbate the affordability crisis, Ibarra said.

In a statement, B.C. Housing said the community housing sector is growing rapidly due to historic investment by the province, and the systems and processes developed years ago for a smaller, less-complex sector need to be updated.

That work is underway, it said, with measures to support providers, such as expediting budget approvals and providing funding advances in some situations.

The provincial agency said it meets biweekly with Pacifica on the budget, has been providing regular updates and has offered a funding advance.

B.C. Housing said it is reviewing requests from Pacifica for renovation funding. The agency assesses renovation requests from all non-profit operators and allocates funding based on need and impact.

Ibarra said the front-line B.C. Housing staff that Pacifica works with has been helpful and regularly works with the housing provider to come up with solutions. The issue is not with staff, but with the process, she said.

“I don’t really know what the barrier is, but we keep consistently hitting a wall,” she said.

In November, 12 housing providers on the Island, Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast wrote a letter saying they were collectively owed more than $20 million from B.C. Housing.

Pacifica Housing signed the letter to Deputy Housing Minister Teri Collins, as did Our Place Society, which declined to comment, and Cool Aid Society, where management could not be reached Wednesday.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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