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Victoria OKs supportive housing facility in Vic West; ‘slap in the face,’ some residents say

Neighbours told council they were concerned a permanent supportive housing project would increase drug use and criminal activity in the area
Future site for supportive-housing facility in Vic West. TIMES COLONIST

Victoria council paved the way this week for a 40-unit ­permanent supportive ­housing facility in Vic West, despite neighbourhood opposition.

With vague promises that “this will be better” than a previous temporary shelter at the site, council adopted new bylaws and amended the official community plan for the project at 225 Russell St.

At a public hearing last spring, neighbours told council they were traumatized by the two-year temporary shelter that closed last year, and were gravely concerned that a permanent supportive housing project would increase drug use and criminal activity in the area.

While councillors acknowledged residents’ concerns, they voted 6-3 in favour of the project, with councillors Chris Coleman, Marg Gardiner and Stephen Hammond opposed.

Mayor Marianne Alto said she was torn, as council was voting solely on the land-use application, which she pointed out was “entirely appropriate” and will provide homes for 40 people, although she acknowledged it was difficult to separate the land use from the potential impact of the project.

She suggested, however, that the permanent facility will differ from the temporary shelter established during the pandemic.

“Having said that, it is actually profoundly disappointing to witness yet another example of the rigidity of B.C. Housing and their inability to read the room and be able to see that very small changes could move a very supportable application beginning from a place of absolute resistance to at least beginning in a place which was willing to give it a chance,” she said.

Last spring, council recommended that B.C. Housing secure the site for supportive housing, ensure it would give priority to residents aged 55 and older and/or Indigenous people, provide security in the area, and create a conflict resolution strategy for neighbours.

But B.C. Housing refused to include all the recommendations in its housing agreement with the city, other than securing the site as supportive housing.

B.C. Housing said supportive-housing occupants are already prioritized based on vulnerability and need, which includes consideration of age and Indigenous identity, and providing neighbourhood security is not within its mandate, noting it already has existing mechanisms for addressing conflicts.

That wasn’t good enough for Hammond, who said neighbours had to put up with a “horror show” for two years at that site.

He said it’s a “slap in the face” to the neighbourhood to approve the project without­ ­getting B.C. Housing to agree to added security and other ­measures.

“I am not convinced that this will be the wonderful thing that I would like it to be. I would like to think that there’s a difference between what was there before and what’s going on now,” he said. “I cannot just go along with the hope and the prayer that this is going to be better.”

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna, who voted in favour of the project, said there is a big difference between a well-run supportive housing facility and a hastily thrown together shelter.

“They’re simply not the same thing. A shelter is not housing. And what happened during the pandemic was, I think, a good-faith effort on the part of the province to get people off the street, but it did end up creating some chaotic situations in former hotels and other facilities,” he said.

Caradonna said if there are problems in the neighbourhood, B.C. Housing will have to deal with them. “It is their responsibility to ensure that operators are functioning properly. It’s their responsibility to build relationships and trust and communication with the neighbourhood,” he said.

Coun. Krista Loughton also suggested the project would differ from the temporary shelter due to the resident mix. She pointed out the city has been told the residents will not be coming directly off the street but from other shelters, and will have demonstrated this is the kind of housing they need.

She said she understood neighbours will not find that reassuring, but she committed to work with them to address issues such as disorder and petty crime.

“This is a really tough one because we can’t say no to 40 supportive-housing units in the climate that we’re in, in the unhoused situation in Victoria right now,” she said.

The temporary 70-bed shelter at 225 Russell St. opened in the spring of 2021 after B.C. Housing purchased the property and closed in April 2023, when the last residents moved into a new 52-unit modular housing project in Saanich.

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